Can digital learning transform education?

More than 2 million K-12 students are enrolled in online courses and that’s projected to hit 10 million by 2014. Can Digital Learning Transform Education? asks Education Next.

First, We Need a Brand New K-12 System, writes Chester Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute and editor of Education Reform for the Digital Era. 

“Local districts and their school boards want to control online learning, Finn writes.

Yet leaving districts and their boards in charge of digital instruction will retard innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and smart competition. It will raise costs; undermine efficiency; block rich instructional options; restrict school choice and parental influence; and strengthen the hand of other interest groups, including but not limited to already too-powerful teachers unions.

Unions are “determined to prevent digital learning from shrinking their ranks or weakening their power bases.”

In California, for example, the state teachers union’s model contract requires that:  “No employee shall be displaced because of distance learning or other educational technology.”

. . . Elsewhere, unions have ensured that class-size limits nonsensically apply to online schools.

As Digital Learning Draws New Users, Transformation Will Occur, counters Michael Horn, executive director of education at the Innosight Institute.

. . . moving away from seat-time requirements toward a competency-based system, in which students advance upon mastery of a concept or skill, is critical to unleashing the full power of digital learning. But because today’s education system was modeled after a factory, time rather than learning is the primary unit of measure.

“Education regulations for the digital-learning world of tomorrow will almost certainly be implemented piecemeal,” Horn concludes. Online learning will be held to a higher standard at first.

Cuts push schools to make hard choices

Budget cuts are good for schools, argue Michael J. Petrilli, Chester E. Finn Jr., & Frederick M. Hess on National Review Online.

In concept, of course, well-delivered education eventually yields higher economic output and fewer social ills. But there’s scant evidence that an extra dollar invested in today’s schools delivers an extra dollar in value — and ample evidence that this kind of bail-out will spare school administrators from making hard-but-overdue choices about how to make their enterprise more efficient and effective.

“Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” said Samuel Johnson.

A Detroit elementary schools is asking parents to donate toilet paper, light bulbs, paper towels and trash bags.  Detroit spends more than $11,000 per student.

Update: To save $1.1 billion, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting five days from the school year; currently the state funds a 180-day year.  I think raising class sizes — which means laying off teachers — would be better for students.