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.

Don't prop up failing schools

Don’t use federal funding to prop up failing schools, write Harvard Business Professor Clayton M. Christensen and Michael Horn of Innosight Institute.

There is great danger in the sudden and massive amount of funding — nearly $100 billion — that the federal government is throwing at the nation’s schools. District by district, the budgetary crises into which all schools were plunging created the impetus for long-needed changes.

The most likely result of this stimulus will be to give our schools the luxury of affording not to change.

They urge four criteria for new funding, starting with no money for technology “that simply shoves computers and other technologies into existing classrooms,” no money for “new school buildings that look like the existing ones”  and no money for education schools that will maintain the status quo. They do advocate spending on “research and development to create student-centric learning software.”

There’s little impetus for change in Florida, where educators complain they can’t use all the stimulus dollars to pay for normal operating expenses, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The Florida Department of Education will get several pots of money in its stimulus-fund package. The largest pot — $2.7 billion during two years — will, in fact, save lots of jobs and cover day-to-day expenses such as paychecks, pencils and electricity.

But the two other largest pots, about $1 billion combined during two years, are earmarked specifically for programs for poor kids and special education.

Richard Riley, a former Education secretary, wants to “do school differently,” but is very light on specifics.