Beyond schools: How will kids learn?

Technology is ramping up the possibilities for out-of-school learning, predicts Mike Petrilli.

Venture capital is flowing into “apps, games, and tutoring platforms that are ‘student-facing’ and being sold direct-to-consumer (or available for free),” he writes.

Khan Academy was drawing 6.5 million unique users per month in the U.S. in 2014, according to a study by SRI.

I’m particularly intrigued by its new partnership with the College Board, which allows students to use their PSAT or SAT results to find free, targeted help through Khan Academy. In the lead-up to the new SAT, administered for the first time in March, over one million students used Khan’s official SAT practice modules. And it wasn’t just affluent kids in hothouse high schools logging on; usage was even across all major demographic groups.

For young kids, PBS Kids provides video content, games, and interactive features, writes Petrilli.  His eight-year-old son “has learned much more science from Wild Kratts and the like than from the Montgomery County Public Schools.”

Other good sources are Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. and National Geographicboth for videos and for interactive activitiesTinybop has created several “strange and beautiful” apps that make learning fun for preschoolers.

Older kids can get a lot out of Ted Ed or the Art of Problem Solving or Duolingo (for learning languages); many younger kids enjoy the Age of Learning’s products. . . . We at Fordham have even tried our hand at compiling good streaming videos from across the interwebs. And of course, don’t forget about the learning potential of games like Minecraft.

Funders and reformers could offer their own content-rich curriculum with “videos, games, social interactivity, Petrilli writes. “Not surprisingly, that’s what the “teach coding” people are busy doing.”

I like Petrilli’s idea for “a website where an elementary or middle school student could enter his standardized test score, and maybe his GPA, and be informed by an algorithm what kind of a college he’d be on track to attend.” Students on the track to remedial community college courses could be pointed to learning resources to help them catch up.

PBS KIDS has announced its summer schedule with new episodes of Ready Jet Go!, Odd Squad and Nature Cat. Parents can find free games, activities,  educational apps and videos at pbsparents.org/summer.

Online, blended schools face critics

Photograph of Elizabeth Novak-Galloway
Elizabeth Novak-Galloway, 12, center, seen with mother Gabriela Novak and sister Kira, 8, was pulled from a K12 school by her dissatisfied mother. Photo: Dai Sugano, Bay Area News Group

Virtual (all-online) and blended learning schools aren’t doing as well as traditional schools, concludes a National Education Policy Center report. Performance is especially low at for-profit schools, researchers said.

The report recommends slowing or halting the growth of virtual and blended schools, writing rules that specify a student-teacher ratio and other measures, reports Hechinger’s Nichole Dobo.

Officials at K12 Inc., a for-profit company that operates a significant share of the nation’s online schools, said they had noticed flaws in the data – such as missing schools and inaccurate demographic numbers. They took issue with the report’s methodology, saying that high turnover rates in online schools make it difficult to compare these schools to more traditional models.

K12’s California Virtual Academies were accused of “cashing in on failure” by the San Jose Mercury News after a recent investigation. In particular, graduation rates are very low.

I think it’s hard to compare students who choose all-online schools with those in traditional schools. It’s not just apples and oranges. It’s apples and zucchini. Overall, though, research suggests that learning online requires maturity and motivation — or, at least, a parent’s close supervision. Students who couldn’t succeed with an in-person teacher aren’t likely to do better with a virtual teacher.

The report is way off base on blended learning, responds Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, who questions what’s counted as a “blended learning school.”

Furthermore, “Does blended learning work?” is the wrong question, she writes.

That is tantamount to asking: Do textbooks work? Do lectures work? Do small group interactions work? Of course these delivery methods—like blended learning—vary widely in their effectiveness depending on how they are implemented. Instead, we need to evaluate specific blended learning models relative to acute problems that individual school systems are trying to solve.

Blended learning — a mix of online and face-to-face instruction — is spreading rapidly, she writes. By 2019, half of high school courses will incorporate online learning with “the vast majority of these using blended learning instructional models.” Christensen researchers predict.

Udemy’s top teacher earned $6.8 million

More than 10 million people — mostly working adults — have taken a Udemy course, the company reports. The online learning platform helps professionals learn workplace skills — and offers personal development courses in music, fitness and other fields, reports Time. It’s not trying to compete with traditional higher education.

Rob Percival, a former high school teacher in Britain, has earned $6.8 million from his Udemy web-development course. Entrepreneur Rob Percival Picture:Richard Patterson

Rob Percival, a former high school teacher in Britain, has earned $6.8 million from his Udemy web-development course. Photo: Richard Patterson

The platform’s instructors can monetize their skills. The most viewed course on web development has earned $6.8 million for Rob Percival, a former high school teacher in Britain. He spent three months creating the course, says Percival. “The amount of good you can do on this scale is staggering. It’s a fantastic feeling knowing that it’s out there, and while I sleep people can still learn from me.”

 

CREDO: Virtual charter students learn less

Most virtual K-12 charter schools learn significantly less than students at traditional public schools, according to a new CREDO study.

The average full-time online student lost 72 days of reading progress, on average, and a full year in math, the study concluded.

“It is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year,” said Margaret E. Raymond, project director at Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO.

The study looked at virtual students in 17 states and the District of Columbia between 2008 and 2013. It did not include students in “blended learning” programs that combine online and teacher-led instruction.

Nina Rees, who runs the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, called for “dramatically” improved oversight and closing low-performing virtual charters. One option could be “funding full-time virtual charter public school students via a performance-based funding system.”

Virtual schooling works for some students, said Rees in a statement. The study found 30 to 40 percent of full-time online students do as well or better than traditional students.

Center for Education Reform questioned the study’s “virtual twin” methodology used to create a control group. “Many parents choose online options for their children based on exceptional circumstances and situations, ranging from safety and bullying concerns, to academic issues, to social and emotional issues, medical reasons, and more,” CER said.

A different Stanford study found that “marginal” DeVry University students learn less in online courses than traditional courses.

A for-profit university, DeVry offers both online and in-person courses with the same syllabus, textbook, assignments, quizzes, tests, and grading rubrics.

High achievers may learn just as much online, but, for lower-achieving students, taking a course online “reduces student learning, as measured by course grades, and lowers the probability of persistence in college,” researchers concluded. Procrastination is the likely suspect.

Via Jay P. Greene’s Blog.

How student aid could ruin coding boot camps

Coding “boot camps” and “academies” have sprung up to get smart people into high-paying programming jobs quickly. Offering federal student aid to boot camp students could “suck most of the innovation out,” warns Alexander Holt, a New America policy analyst.

Participants take part in HTML500, a course which teaches computer coding skills, in Vancouver, B.C. Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 HE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Coding students in a Vancouver boot camp. Photo: Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press

Bootcamps succeed because “their price must match labor market demands or outcomes,” writes Holt. App Academy students pay no tuition. They “pay a percentage of their first year’s income instead.”

However, federal financial is based on enrollment, not results, he writes. Instead of linking prices to student outcomes, schools will be able to raise prices regardless of their job placement rates.

There once was another highly innovative industry that federal aid ruined. For-profit companies using online distance learning tools were seen as a brand new way to educate students at lower costs (online education is still seen as the future by many, and it may be). What we failed to understand was that online programs were only innovative when they had to survive in a real market. In 2006, schools were no longer required to teach at least 50% of the program on campus, thus opening up the crazy online degrees we have now (that also exist at prestigious universities) with little or no evidence they lead to positive outcomes for students.

The Department of Education wants to help low-income students access high-quality, innovative programs, Holt writes. “But what starts as expanding access ends with bad actors taking advantage of federal dollars with no strings attached.”

Public: 30% of time on computers is OK

How much class time should students spend learning via computers? Thirty percent is about right, says the public in an Education Next survey. Teachers say 20 percent. Blended-learning experts said that about 40 percent of classroom time should be spent “receiving instruction independently through or on a computer.”

Online program aims to train 10,000 teachers

TEACH-NOW, an online training and credentialing program, plans to turn out 10,000 new teachers in the next five years, reports Jackie Mader in Washington Monthly’s College Guide.

Four years ago, Emily Feistritzer, an education researcher and former president of the National Center for Education Information, began the nine-month training course to help new teachers learn to use technology in the classroom. There are now 700 graduates.

Emily Fxxxxxxx

Emily Feistritzer

“The majority of [schools of education] are pretty stale and boring and don’t really prepare teachers to work in 21st century schools,” said Philip Schmidt, former dean of Western Governors University’s teacher preparation program, who’ll help with the expansion.

In TEACH-NOW’s model,  “students take online classes with 15 or fewer students and work through a sequence of individual online modules, instead of taking several different classes at the same time,” writes Mader. “Classroom observations, projects and school-based experiences, like tutoring, are integrated throughout the curriculum, and all aspiring teachers must complete a 12-week module of student teaching at the end of the certification program.”

Tom Vander Ark has more on online teacher prep and the TEACH-NOW model.

Indiana is #1 in parent power

ParentPowerIndex2015 2

Indiana remains the “reformiest” state in the union on the Center for Education Reform’s Parent Power Index.

A much-tested and improved charter school law offers a wide variety of options. A path-breaking, statewide school choice program has attracted tens of thousands of parents who have chosen private schools for their children. Indiana also offers more digital learning opportunities than most states and can boast a pretty decent record of teacher quality measures that put the public in the driver’s seat.

Indiana gets an “A.” Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Utah earn “B” grades on the index.

Can tech break the college monopoly?

Online courses will revolutionize higher education when learners can earn low-cost credentials that lead to jobs, writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. Carey is the author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere

. . .  traditional college degrees are deeply embedded in government regulation and standard human resources practice. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are — if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, it’s illegal for a public school to hire you. Private-sector employers often use college degrees as a cheap and easy way to select for certain basic attributes, mostly the discipline and wherewithal necessary to earn 120 college credits.

However, Carey believes alternative credentials such as badges will break colleges’ “near-monopoly” on job qualifications. And most students go to college to get a better job, he writes.

Not so fast, responds economist Bryan Caplan.

Degrees signal an array of traits: not just intelligence, but work ethic, conformity, and more.  “Harvard dropout” tells the job market, “This person was promising enough to get into Harvard, but so lazy and/or non-conformist that he wasted this golden opportunity.”

Conformity to social norms is a valued job attribute, adds Caplan. “Employers focus at least as much on workers’ general competence and people skills” as they do on specific skill sets.

He’d love to believe Carey is right, but he concludes “the status quo has a massive built-in advantage” because of the importance of “conformity signaling.” Furthermore, “governments at all levels annually cement the status quo’s advantage with hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies.”

National University could make college affordable

Thanks to advances in information technology, we can “create a 21st Century National University that will help millions of students get a high-quality, low-cost college education — without hiring any professors, building any buildings or costing the taxpayers a dime.” So writes Kevin Carey, who directs education policy at New America, in his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

national university was George Washington’s wish, Carey writes on CNN. He even left money for it in his will. Now it’s doable.

Anyone with an Internet connection can log on to Coursera, edX, saylor.org, and many other websites offering high-quality online courses, created by many of the world’s greatest universities and taught by tenured professors, for free.

Tens of millions of students have already signed up for these courses over the last four years. Yet enrollment in traditional colleges hasn’t flagged, and prices have continued to rise. The reason is clear. The free college providers can’t (or won’t) give online students the one thing they need more than anything else: a college degree. Elite universities like Harvard and Stanford don’t want to dilute their exclusive brands. Nonelite universities don’t want to give away something they’re currently selling for a lot of money.

The U.S. Department of Education could create a nonprofit with the authority to approve courses and grant degrees, he proposes. “Any higher education provider, public or private sector, could submit a course for approval,” paying a fee to cover the cost of evaluation.

While many of the courses will be free, students will bear small costs for taking exams through secure online channels or in-person testing facilities. (Textbooks will be free and open-source). Students will also pay a modest fee of a few hundred dollars for the degree itself, enough to defray the operating costs of National U.

National University wouldn’t have football or fraternities, but many people would give that up for a low-cost credential.

Carey is speaking on his ideas about the future of learning this afternoon (Wednesday). Go here for the livestream.

Competency-based programs give credit for skills learned through work, independent study or other means, writes Matt Krupnick on the Hechinger Report.

That means those students can earn degrees more quickly and at a lower cost — even lower now that the U.S. Department of Education has begun a pilot program under which students at 40 institutions will be able to use federal financial aid to pay for it, which was not previously allowed.

But what about quality?

Competency-based programs “could very easily devolve into diploma mills,” said Amy Laitinen, a former White House and Department of Education advisor who is now deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation and an advocate of the concept. “It could go south very quickly.”

Sweet Briar College will close due to financial problems. A residential liberal arts college for women, Sweet Briar charged $47,000 a year, including tuition and room and board. Even with financial aid, the average was $25,000 a year. Not enough young women wanted a single-sex education at that price.

A college shake-out is coming: Sweet Briar won’t be the last private college to fold.