There is tension inherent in being a conservative education reformer.
On the one hand, I’m a strident advocate for grand change. For example, my book is about ridding ourselves of traditional urban school districts. I strongly support charters and vouchers. I believe in overhauling teacher evaluation systems and much of the policy architecture they undergird (preparation, credentialing, compensation, tenure, etc.). I’ve written recently about my growing belief that SEAs are outdated.
There is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.
I firmly believe that these reforms are in the best interest of kids, especially disadvantaged boys and girls. But I suspect these views get encouragement from my right-of-center worldview: that government programs are generally clumsy and expensive and often have regrettable and far-reaching unintended consequences; that it’s wise to hold entities accountable for achieving results by using measurable performance indicators that inform consequences; and that markets are generally efficient, nimble, and responsive to consumer needs and create space for the kinds of entrepreneurial activity that generate continuous improvement.
But the other half of my conservatism means I generally believe in preserving things that have been around for a while. As I wrote in this piece about prudent school-closure policies, there is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.
Even if they seem weathered on the outside, below their surfaces can dwell vast, unseen
Stanford, Swarthmore, and Princeton may have nothing to fear in the near term, but why should anybody pay $50,000 per annum for four years at Drexel, Willamette, Xavier, or Birmingham Southern if, for a few hundred dollars per course, they can accumulate a degree's worth of college credits by studying on line and then taking a test? Why, for that matter, pay $12–15,000 a year to second-tier state schools? Such questions inevitably follow from the American Council on Education's announcement that it has begun to validate online courses ("MOOCs"), delivered via Coursera, as deserving of degree credit, provided those taking such courses also submit to an "identity-verified" and proctored (but online) exam (see here and here). This is not really a surprise, considering that the ACE has been validating workforce-based learning in similar fashion for decades. But the online version has immense potential to grow, to reward initiative, and to save a bunch of money. All that's really needed now is an entrepreneurial college that is prepared to apply such credits toward its diplomas. And if not the whole diploma, how about half? Two years "on campus" is a lot cheaper than four. Is high school next?
The NYT turns in a piece about TFA, recruiting, and today’s underwhelming job market. This quote from a recent recruit will certainly stir the passions: “It wasn’t until I was desperate that I said ‘I’ll check this out.’” My Bellwether colleague Andy Eduwonk weighs in thoughtfully here. The bigger question, I think, is this: Given the great need for drastic change in our urban school systems, are TFA and the other ed-reform human-capital providers sustaining or disrupting the establishment?
I argue in the Urban School System of the Future that we need to replace big-city districts because they will never produce the results we need. This tragic piece about the mess in Detroit gives another reason for replacement: Many of these districts (possibly including Philadelphia) are on the brink of dissolution due to financial and other pressures. We need to have a Plan B should these systems break down; better yet, we should carefully choreograph their exit so we get ahead of these impending crashes.
MOOCs are all the rage now in higher education (check out this WJS piece). They seem to have countless benefits. The problem is that the technology has gotten far ahead of policy and practice. These upsides and downsides are coming to K–12. Get up to speed with this great column by Checker Finn.
The remarkable spread of free online courses through American higher education has prompted major soul-searching and some fast footwork among traditional universities and their national organizations.
The next step: K-12 MOOCs provided by topflight schools to students beyond their own campuses.
Photo by poperotico via photopin cc
You can already find “MOOCs” (massive open online courses) on a host of websites, created and delivered by a wide array of institutions and individuals.
As I write, Coursera offers 207 courses, ranging from astronomy to public health, presented by professors at such upscale schools as CalTech, Duke, and Stanford (where, as best I can tell, all this originated—and just a few years ago). Udacity offers about twenty courses, EdX (founded by Harvard and MIT) around ten.
Providers such as these are proliferating and expanding via a hodgepodge of for- and non-profit organizations with offerings that range from free to pricey. And participation is soaring, too. Coursera claims two million course-takers worldwide—and since the courses are online, one can indeed take them anyplace, anytime.
This remarkably rapid development carries huge potential for universalizing and customizing higher education and for enormous cost savings. But it collides with age-old traditions and deeply entrenched practices regarding how one earns a college degree—and it also carries enormous risks. Who determines which students “pass” these on-line
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
May 16, 2013
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