Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 45
November 17, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Like peanut butter and chocolate: Digital learning and excellent teachers go well together
With you for me, and me for you?
For next-generation learning, we need next-generation funding
Dear funding structure, Stop crippling innovation. Sincerely, Paul
A green thumb for online learning
Great reforms need to be cultivated
Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice
Expanding digital learning the most inefficient way possible: One district at a time
By Laura Johnson
Online and Blended Learning: A Survey of Policy and Practice from K-12 Schools Around the World
Has anyone got this figured out yet?
Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Venture in Need of Public Regulation
Surprisingly sound recommendations from the anti-capatalists
November 17, 2011
We don’t doubt that the digital future will transform education—along with practically everything else. But rather than seeing it as a painful (and politically volatile) trade-off between technology and teachers, we propose that digital education needs excellent teachers and that a first-rate teaching profession needs digital education. Schools will not require as many conventional teachers as they did yesterday, but those they need will be crucial—and will be able to tap top-notch technology and instructional support teams to achieve excellence at scale. These teachers will get paid more, too, potentially a lot more. And all this can be done within tight budgets so long as education systems judiciously blend technology and people.
Digital learning has the potential to transform the teaching profession in three major ways:
- Extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students.
- Attracting and retaining more excellent teachers.
- Boosting effectiveness and job options for average teachers.
Extending the reach of the best. In the digital future, teacher effectiveness will matter even more than today. As digital learning spreads, students worldwide will gain access to core knowledge and skills instruction. What will increasingly differentiate outcomes for schools, states, and nations is how well responsible adults carry out the more complex instructional tasks: motivating students to go the extra mile, teaching them time management, addressing social and emotional issues that affect their learning, and diagnosing problems and making the right changes when learning stalls.
The top 20 or 25 percent of teachers already meet these challenges. But in traditional classrooms, they only reach 20 to 25 percent of students. That’s where digital learning can help.
November 17, 2011
Futurists have long regaled us with predictions about technology dramatically improving education by giving millions more students access to the very best teachers and deploying computer-based systems that allow students to learn at their own pace at whatever time and place works best for them. This vision is now becoming a reality, partly because tight budgets are forcing K-12 schools to employ fewer teachers and boost the productivity of those who remain.
Saving money is only part of technology’s educational potential, however. More important is individualization and rapid adaptation to what a student is learning, leading to the possibility of greater and more consistent growth. Managing equipment, web links, and vendor contracts is also far nimbler than reorganizing people.
Our current education-finance system doesn’t actually fund schools and certainly doesn’t fund students.
All this potential notwithstanding, however, plenty of policy and structural barriers stand in the way of widespread adoption of technology in K-12 education. Perhaps the toughest of these is our traditional approach to school funding.
Simply put: Our current education-finance system doesn’t actually fund schools and certainly doesn’t fund students. Rather, it pays for district-wide programs and staff positions. Much of it is locked into personnel contracts and salary schedules—and most of the rest is locked into bureaucratic routine. It’s next to impossible to shift resources from established programs and flesh-and-blood workers into
November 17, 2011
Like a bonsai, digital education must be cultivated—with policies that foster its growth and trim its unruly branches. Yet, too few are ready or willing to tend—and bend—this growing plant. Instead, divided camps have emerged. One group—balking at the potential loss of rigor, loss of teachers, loss of interpersonal connections associated with online schooling—stands ready to uproot the fledgling digital-learning initiative. It even seems to have the Wall Street Journal convinced: A WSJ piece from this week starts off with a vignette of an unmotivated online student who sets aside only three hours a day for schoolwork, offers critique of the level of student-teacher communication at Florida Virtual School, and hints at the fear of for-profit takeover of the digital-ed realm. In the other camp are those blind proponents of online ed, who extol its rigor, instructional prowess, and its intrinsic quality-control mechanisms. Responding to the Journal’s piece, Tom Vander Ark personified this movement. In his rebuttal he avers the rigor of online school (but he fails to address credit-recovery programs, a habitual perpetuator of the “easier online” stereotype) and swears that online learning won’t replace teachers (it will). Like charter-school advocates of the mid-1990s, Vander Ark and co. sit contented
Laura Johnson / November 17, 2011
This eighth edition of Keeping Pace—digital education’s yearbook cum encyclopedia—offers promising statistics for online-learning proponents: All fifty states and D.C. now offer at least some sort of online or blended learning opportunity, with digital course enrollment jumping 19 percent in the last year alone. Good news. But there’s more. At an average per-pupil expense of about $7,000, full-time online learning can cost thousands less than the average brick-and-mortar experience. Other trends are interesting. Notably, single-district programs have grown the fastest this past year—with consortia programs greatly expanding as well. (Implementation of the Common Core standards will likely spur states to adopt this consortium model as well, say the authors.) Yet other trends serve as reminders that we have yet to unlock the full potential of online learning: Digital programs are serving a disproportionately low percentage of minorities, free and reduced-price lunch students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. For those looking to winkle out digital-learning statistics, get a lay of the digital-learning landscape, or see how their own states fare in this realm, Keeping Pace won’t disappoint.
|Click to listen to commentary on Keeping Pace from the Education Gadfly Show Podcast.
John Watson, Amy Murin, Lauren Vashaw, et al., Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice (Durango, CO: Evergreen Education Group, 2011).
Daniela Fairchild / November 17, 2011
This iNACOL (International Association for K-12 Online Learning) report, a follow-up to its 2006 survey, profiles the digital-learning status of fifty countries from Albania to Thailand. It documents global trends, issues, and challenges relating to digital learning—and shows that the questions and concerns surrounding digital education in the U.S. permeate national borders, much like the internet itself. Atop the list of challenges: Survey respondents cited a lack of public knowledge of (and thus an interest in) digital learning. Lack of funding was also a key barrier to online-ed proliferation, survey respondents said. Unfortunately (though understandably, given the scope), the report’s broad brush strokes offer little by way of detail and even fewer international lessons for the States—even in the nine country case studies. For more specifics, we’ll have to look elsewhere.
Michael Barbour, et al., Online and Blended Learning: A Survey of Policy and Practice from K-12 Schools Around the World (Vienna, VA: International Association for K-12 Online Learning, November 2011).
Tyson Eberhardt / November 17, 2011
“Most changes in the ways schools operate can be thought of as tools,” write Gene Glass, Kevin Welner, and Justin Bathon in their recent policy brief. “Used well, such tools can be beneficial; used poorly, they can be harmful.” Agreed. The problem is that these authors seem convinced of online learning’s malevolence. Their evidence is the presence of for-profits in the digital-ed sector. Behind the proliferation of online schools—usually charters—the authors see corporate interests determined to squeeze dollars out of a poorly regulated yet potentially vast market with few consumer protections. Private companies, they charge, will reap fortunes by offering inferior products at inflated prices, enabled by cozy relationships with lawmakers. Further, they assert, research on the effects of digital learning is minimal, arguing that this “evidentiary void” is reason enough to slow expansion of online-ed programs. (As if any innovation came with an issued-in-advance “proof of quality” guarantee!) The conclusion is thus drawn: In all but the most limited and tightly regulated forms, digital schooling will only wreak havoc on the American education system. For those with even a modicum of faith in school choice and the free market, theirs is an exasperating argument—which is why the general reasonableness of Glass’s, Welner’s, and Bathon’s policy proposals is so surprising. They recommend that states: authenticate student work, accredit online schools, audit their finances, and regulate aspects of instruction and function. OK! Of course digital learning could go off the tracks without thoughtful oversight and planning; advocates would be wise to lead the charge for rational (yet minimal) regulation before the fear