John Chubb is CEO of Leeds Global Partners and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution where he is a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He is co-author with Terry Moe of Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education and author of "Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning."
If a public school student wants to take an Advanced Placement course from Apex Learning, a respected provider of online AP instruction, who should determine whether the student may do so? Today, the answer is almost uniformly, the local school board (or charter board) that governs the student’s school. Should it be so?
States have long delegated to local boards the authority to determine how students satisfy state standards such as graduation requirements. If a student wants to meet a state standard by some means other than what his or her school is offering, local board policies determine whether the student may. This makes a certain amount of sense. Students and families may want an option of dubious academic value.
But boards may decide these matters with more on their minds than quality control. Every time a student opts to receive a bit of education outside of a home school, the school or district faces a financial hit: it loses state revenue or gets stuck with a fee. Local boards consequently are not
The controversy over the recent New York Times front-page slam of K12 Inc. was ostensibly about the company’s inability to deliver online education (see CEO Ron Packard’s reply here), but one of the more interesting parts of the ensuing debate was not about computers and education but about delivering education for profit – which is what Packard’s company does. (Full disclosure: I have done some editing work for K12.)
This morning Walt Gardner, who writes the Reality Check blog for Education Week, penned a letter to the Times editor that seems to sum up the anti-profit school of thought pretty well:
Agora Cyber Charter School [the K12 school that was the Times’ whipping post] serves as an instructive case study of what happens when schools are run like businesses. The profit motive always assures that the education of students takes a back seat to the enrichment of investors.
Nevertheless, free market advocates have managed to exploit the frustration and anger felt by taxpayers over the glacial progress of traditional public schools to advance their agenda. In the end, it will become clear that it’s impossible to provide a quality education and show a profit at the same time.
This is a brief but concise compilation of some of the misguided beliefs about business and education, and it reinforces a working theory of mine: that many education establishmentarians lean far to the left on governance issues other than those affecting education.
Yesterday, the New York Times began a series on technology and education (?Grading the Digital School?) on a decidedly downbeat note: the huge investment in digital technology ? nearly $2 billion a year in software alone, according to the paper -- may not be improving student performance.? [pullquote]?We've jumped on bandwagons for different eras without knowing fully what we're doing. This might just be the new bandwagon.?[/pullquote]
The Arizona school district that reporter Matt Richtel uses to illustrate the lengthy discussion (a front-page story in the Times' Sunday print edition) is the 18,000 student, K-8 Kyrene School District, which has invested $33 million in its digital system since 2005. ??Hope and enthusiasm are soaring,? writes Richtel, ?but not test scores.?
Despite the headlong rush to digitize our schools, there is, as Larry Cuban tells Richtel, ?insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period.? ?Cuban also pooh-pooh's the ?student engagement? argument for computers. ?There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement,? he says.
Even Kyrene Superintendent David Schauer has his doubts, telling Richtel, ?We've jumped on bandwagons for different eras without knowing fully what we're doing. This might just be the new bandwagon.?
The story covers most of the essential bases, but, tellingly, makes only glancing references to curriculum. ?The familiar buzz phrases are there ? ?digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a
Will you get on or not?? This is the question posed by this morning's page one New York Times story by Trip Gabriel:? More Pupils Are Learning Online, Fueling Debate on Quality.? Gabriel says that some 200,000 kids now attend online schools fulltime and over a million take at least one online course, a nearly 50 percent increase in just three years.
The question of quality is, indeed, the issue that educators and policymakers should be focused on here. And Gabriel is off to a promising start with an anecdote about an online student who went to Wikipedia to answer a question about social Darwinism for an English class. ?He copied the language, spell-checked it and e-mailed it to his teacher,? reports Gabriel.
That kind of quality control challenge is only the tip of the iceberg. ?Gabriel leads his story describing this same student's study of Jack London, ?in a high school classroom packed with computers.? The kid scans a ?brief biography? of London and that's it:
But the curriculum did not require him, as it had generations of English students, to wade through a tattered copy of Call of the Wild or To Build a Fire.
Unfortunately, this is where Mr. Gabriel falls into the weeds ? and he never gets out. Rather, he falls in just after these promising anecdotes: curriculum is not mentioned again in the story.? In fact, I would bet Mr. Gabriel good money that generations of English
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
May 16, 2013
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