Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education

Matthew Walsh

Terry M. Moe and John E. Chubb
John Wiley & Sons
2009

In their latest book, Terry M. Moe and John E. Chubb complain about the slow pace of promoting technology in America's schools and they lay the blame solely at the feet of teacher union leaders.

By studying existing cyber schools, Moe and Chubb refute many of the traditional arguments against bringing technology into schools. The authors demonstrate that states have already begun embracing computerized databases and utilizing computer-based instruction. Further, K-12 cyber schools, both state and private sponsored, have emerged throughout the United States. These institutions provide alternatives to students who attend schools that do not serve their needs. School districts also are increasingly using computerized databases to collect and analyze student test scores and other information. Moe and Chubb, however, believe the opposition of teacher unions has delayed the utilization of technology.

Unions, the authors claim, engage in what they term the "politics of blocking," including stalling legislation that might hurt their members. Using campaign contributions and the threat of not endorsing a candidate, these special interests have impeded the technology movement, and Moe and Chubb estimate it may be 20 years until technology reaches its potential in education.

Moe and Chubb admit that technology has limits. For example, it fails to teach children interpersonal communication skills necessary for everyday business. Additionally, online learning is susceptible to student cheating.

Despite union foot-dragging, K-12 cyber schools, both state and private sponsored, are emerging. At PA Cyber, in Pennsylvania, one of the top schools nationally, the average SAT score for students was 97 points above the state average in 2006-2007 and the school hit all 21 of its performance targets. A Stanford University study also found significant growth by PA Cyber students in reading, math, and writing. Students can reap these benefits no matter where they live in state.

Ohio also occupies a major position in the book as a cyber-charters leader. In 2006, a moratorium was placed on e-schools, as they're known in Ohio. The moratorium is still in effect, although the success of e-schools detailed in the book warrants the Ohio legislature lifting the limit for high-performing operators. In the meantime, measures such as the use of computer software tailored to allow students to work at their own pace should be embraced by all schools. Moe and Chubb believe that e-schools offer vital competition to established schools and that school districts should be able to experiment is finding the technology that works best for all students.

Liberating Learning can be purchased here.