Whether you consider today’s New York Times article on K12.com a “hit piece” (Tom Vander Ark) or a “blockbuster” (Dana Goldstein), there’s little doubt that it will have a long-term impact on the debate around digital learning. Polls show that the public and parents are leery of cyber schools, and this kind of media attention (sure to be mimicked in local papers) will only make them more so.
But just as these criticisms aren’t going away, neither is online learning itself. The genie is out of the bottle. So how can we go about drafting policies that will push digital learning in the direction of quality?
This is something we at Fordham are thinking a lot about, and we’ve published three papers (so far) in our series, Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning: Rick Hess on quality control; Paul Hill on funding; and Bryan and Emily Hassel on teachers. And in January, we’ll publish an analysis by the Parthenon Group of what high-quality fulltime online learning really costs.
I’ll leave it to others to rebut the Times’ extremely selective use of data, expert opinion, and evidence. Where the article landed a punch, in my view, was around the perverse incentives at play today. Clearly K12, and its well-paid CEO, Ron Packard, face strong incentives to boost enrollment at their schools. Unfortunately, states haven’t figured out a way to create similar incentives around quality. And that
Be sure to check out the latest edition of Education Week, featuring a commentary by Paul T. Hill on the need for school funding reform in order to unlock digital learning’s full potential. The Center on Reinventing Public Education director sums up many of his ideas from last month’s “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era” paper, part of Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series, which outlined the need for a streamlined funding model where money follows students and encourages edtech innovation. If the EdWeek essay piques your interest, download the full paper and read more by Hill from last week’s Rethinking Education Governance conference.
Guest blogger Paul Teske is dean and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. In this post, originally published at EdNews Colorado, he reflects on the future of digital learning and Paul T. Hill’s recent paper in Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series, “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era.”
For decades, some education pundits have predicted that technology would radically alter and improve the delivery of educational services. Radio, Ed TV, and computers in classrooms were all examples that were highly touted in their time. And, while none of these has really had much impact on student learning, a cottage industry has also developed within academia to explain why – no changes to teaching approaches, use of a mass media, poor content, lack of training, etc.
(I should note that I’m old enough to remember film-strips as a major technology. In the exurban NYC town in which I grew up, teachers sometimes engaged in strikes, despite a state law against it, and we students would come to school anyway, to get enough days in to fully meet state regulations for funding. We would wave to our striking teachers and head into class rooms to watch educational film strips, in the absence of real instructors).
Now, with widespread digital access and technologies, we may well
“Selling Schools Out: the Scam of Virtual Education Reform.” The headline gracing the cover of the Nation’s December 5 edition does a pretty good job conveying the nuance and objectivity to be found in its expose of the digital learning landscape, a sprawling indictment of online schooling in general. Author Lee Fang describes a corrupt alliance of think tanks, politicians, lobbyists, and private companies intent on recklessly promoting an unproven education model for corporate gain. Their coordinated efforts, to hear Fang tell it, have resulted in a “legislative juggernaut” that loosened restrictions on virtual schooling in thirteen states in 2011 alone, triggering a “gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market.”
It’s certainly an entertaining read, complete with union busting, multiple “infamous” operatives, online smear sites, and an arch-villain—the “Man Behind the Virtual Curtain”—Jeb Bush. Yet for all its supposedly incriminating audio files and closed-door meetings, the Nation piece is more about ideology than scandal. Education Sector’s Bill Tucker took Fang to task for omitting and mischaracterizing public sector innovation in online schooling to preserve a narrative of privatization, and rightfully so, but it’s worth owning a part of that story.
The growth of digital learning promises to bring unprecedented private sector investment to education. Major corporations are lining up to pour money into research and development, while education technology startups emerge daily. These organizations want to improve educational opportunities
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.
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