National Journal had a surprisingly weak turnout for edu-election rehash.  Here’s my late contribution on why Washington matters less than it used to.

NCLB was the peak of coercive power for the feds (don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the few that will still publically defend the law) and RttT was the peak of incentive power, but that’s all over—end of an era.  With the Core as a new collaboration frame, we’re back to stumbling along 50 states at a time with uneven progress and whipsawed by local politics.

State education leadership will remain very important for the foreseeable future.  The U.S. desperately needs a few states to show the way, like WI on welfare, to the personal digital learning future.

Regardless of what the feds and the state do, digital learning is inevitable.  Our calcified system is being enveloped by an informal learning web were anyone can learn anything anywhere for free or cheap.  Schools and colleges no longer own the learning franchise.  Some just haven’t figured that out yet.

Free social learning apps are creeping in to classrooms. Online learning is doubling every 2-3 years.  Students are blending their own learning where options aren’t outlawed.  Kids with a crummy algebra teacher have a new friend in Sal Khan.

Despite what is likely to be a dysfunctional do-nothing congress, the learning revolution will march on quickly and quietly creating new options for students and families.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


  1. I agree. My concern is that when you have an institution like public education which runs on tax money, it tends to be insulated from the usual market signals. This allows it to continue on like a zombie long after it actually dies. The problem with this is it takes resources away from more promising approaches. The plus side is it means any new approaches have to be demonstratively better than the alternatives. It becomes a very Darwinian system.


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