It has become increasingly clear to me that the way to reform public education is not to work within the existing system, but to rebuild it from the ground up. Change cannot happen under the current framework. My colleague Michael Horn at the Innosight Institute has it 100% right. Disruptive innovation is the only way to get the system to change. I am more convinced than ever that more money is not going to do anything for our children. There is plenty of money; however, there is too much wasteful spending in our local monopoly-driven system.
I decided to title this blog post identical to a recent white paper I read from the Fordham Institute. It is free to the world, and, contrary to what many people have labeled as a "conservative" point of view about education reform, it is nothing of the sort. The extensive paper comprises well-researched policy recommendations on how we can reposition our public schools for success in a digital world. How can our schools embrace technological innovation and digital learning? The first paragraph of the introduction: Overcoming the Obstacles to Digital Learning, provides an excellent lens into the objectives of the paper:
Digital learning is more than the latest addition to education reformers’ to-do lists, filed along with teacher evaluations, charter schools, tenure reform, academic standards, and the like. It’s fundamentally different: For digital learning to fulfill its enormous potential, a wholesale reshaping of the reform agenda itself is required, particularly in the realms of school finance and governance. But just as online education needs those reforms if it is to flourish, so does deep education reform need digital learning, which can provide valuable solutions to some of education’s greatest challenges—beginning with the basic obsolescence of its familiar delivery system.
The paper is comprised of five detailed, research-driven sections:
Chapter 1: Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction
Chapter 2: Quality Control in K–12 Digital Learning:
Chapter 3: The Costs of Online Learning
Chapter 4: School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era
Chapter 5: Overcoming the Governance Challenge in
K–12 Online Learning
There is some excellent guidance in the material about the promise of digital learning and why teachers should embrace it, not fear it. However, the paper does a fine job at framing three significant barriers to successful implementation of digital learning in public education:
- Self-absorbed and self-serving groups that do their utmost either to capture the potential of technology to advance their own interests or to shackle it in ways that keep it from harming those interests.
- Issues of organizational capacity within our public education system, a system that has enormous
difficulty accommodating and assimilating change—and the more wrenching the change the greater the difficulty.
- Core governance and financing structures of our K–12 system itself.
Teachers fear the "unbundling" of learning that digital learning promises. Education is not bound by the walls of one classroom and one teacher. How you train teachers and measure their effectiveness when they do not have full control over a child's academic development poses material challenges in our current education system that is run by local monopolies and teachers unions. That is NOT a conservative or liberal perspective - that is REALITY. You cannot leave local school districts in control of online learning, as it will retard innovation. Let me leave you with one final excerpt from the paper, which again, I encourage all of you to take the time and read:
Now consider our agricultural-era devotion to “local control” of public education and ask how this arrangement can possibly work well—indeed, what it even means—when the delivery system itself is unbound by district, municipal, or even state borders. Who is really “in charge” when students assemble their education from multiple providers based in many locations, some likely on the other side of
the planet? Digital learning, like digital communications, lives on the Internet—often “in the cloud”—and knows no natural geographic or political boundaries. Sure, it can be inhibited by totalitarian regimes that fear websites or any communications that may loosen their grip. When left to flourish in the marketplace, however, digital learning will yield innovation, competition (affecting content, quality, delivery mechanisms, and price), and eventual economies of scale. And those will—and ought to—develop without regard to municipal boundaries.
I could write pages and pages of material about this work, so I ask you all to read it for yourselves. Keep an open mind, and please share your insights with me after you've had a chance to read it.
The road map is there, my friends - we just require the courage to change. Lets do it for the sake of our children's generation.