Educators should embrace—not castigate—video games and TV.
These schools, funded with innovation dollars provided by a newly structured NCLB, would be laboratories for testing different digital approaches to learning and assessment, as well as for breaking down the barriers between in- and out-of-school learning. They could become a hub for the professional development of digitally savvy teachers. The model schools could also link to state innovations such as virtual high schools to deliver strong instruction in key areas that most children have no access to, such as high-quality second-language instruction, which is associated with higher levels of performance on native language skills in the early grades. Finally, these schools could become a fulcrum for demonstrating how businesses could get involved by donating mentors, training teachers, or funding model initiatives.
Modernize and Recommit to Public Media
Educational television media for young children, stimulated by the pioneering "Sesame Street," have accumulated a four-decade track record indicating that under the right conditions, basic reading, math, and social skills can be enhanced for young children, especially those from underserved communities. It is past time for these television-based efforts, largely paid for with taxpayer dollars, to be modernized to advance a public trust to meet the needs of low-income children and families.
A first step would be a radically redesigned "Ready-to-Learn" program financed by Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, which now reaches millions of low-income children with quality television broadcast fare but which has paid little attention to extending learning on new platforms, or widening low-cost, linguistically diverse distribution in schools and community settings. Successful shows like "Blues Clues," "Ghost Writer," and "The Electric Company" demonstrate that television can teach skills in ways that encourage adults to be involved with children’s learning as an interactive experience between parent and child. The digital media and games spawned by such shows have been used informally to accelerate children’s cognitive growth, language development, and affiliation with school learning. Digital media may provide opportunities for the more intensive exposure needed to accelerate struggling students’ performance that these television programs have not delivered in the past.
To that end, a modernized Corporation for Public Media should follow a framework for production that includes wider experimentation with new formats such as games, virtual worlds, mobile learning, and social network communities to engage children on both traditional and newer literacy skills. Any new taxpayer commitment should promote the development of different business models and incentives to ensure that intellectual property is more open, available for modification by children and teachers, and widely distributed to schools and other learning centers.
Five decades ago, the threat to our nation’s security posed by the Soviet launch of Sputnik galvanized an education reform movement that invested wisely in basic research, higher education, and area studies. As a result, the United States catapulted to dominant leadership in math, science, and technology. Today, the threat is to America’s economy, and it comes from the inexorable but less visible currents of globalization and substantial self-imposed hemorrhages in our financial systems. American leadership in the new economy can be assured only if students are prepared to read for effective content learning and if we promote the types of knowledge, creativity, communications, and innovation skills young people will need to compete and cooperate in a global age. Leveraging the power and potential of digital media for literacy learning, starting now, can play a pivotal role in ensuring a bright future for all of our children.
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