I’m optimistic about America after engaging in a dozen venues in three state capitals in recent days.  I spoke with hundreds of thoughtful elected officials working hard to make good decisions under difficult circumstances.

Florida, Idaho, and Utah are poised to adopt big chunks of the Digital Learning Now platform.  As a result, millions of students and families will soon have better full and part time educational options.

In the middle of several cross country swings, I also did two days of jury duty.  I was impressed with the competence of judges, attorneys and their staffs.  The experience gave me confidence that we have a functioning justice system in this country. However, the system is clearly optimized around judges not jurors.  They call 24 jurors just to make sure they’ll get at least 7 to sit through a trial after excuses and preemptory challenges.  I guess they figure this 3x inefficiency is ok because it meets their needs, but think of the massive loss of productivity that it inflicts on the economy.

It’s strikes me that our education system, especially how it’s funded, is another public delivery system that optimized around bureaucrats rather than customers—states fund districts instead of funding kids.  This inflicts a massive drag on the American economy—districts costs us about $200 billion annually with questionable return on investment.

Districts get funding from the feds and states in small buckets with lots of strings attached.  Each program has its on reporting requirements.  That makes it really hard for districts to manage through a downturn or to imagine schools that work differently and better.

A system that funded students and reflected the challenges that they bring to school would be more productive.  It’s not much more difficult from a state IT standpoint to fund one million individual students than it is to fund 300 districts running 30 programs.

Pushing funding to the student and allowing fractions to flow them to the course provider would open expand options and promote innovation.  States adopting Digital Learning Now Elements are moving to a new learning landscape where they fund kids rather than districts or programs—a system where weighted student funding follows students to the best learning experience.

Creative state leaders will bid out AP, STEM, and language courses.  A creative chief may use advanced market commitments to lock in savings and split it with districts.

School and district leaders awake to the potential will take initiative and work with an online learning provider to expand fall offerings; they will offer a wide array of AP and dual enrollment courses, a dozen foreign languages, several personalized math sequences, and supportive credit recovery options.

Over the next generation, about a third of U.S. education will shift away from geo-political leadership (elected school boards) to perpetual network leadership (charter networks and online providers with mission-focused rather than political boards).  The multi-provider landscape will improve American public education.

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Tom Vander Ark
Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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