Mistakenly Defending the Status Quo

I have never agreed with anything that Valerie Strauss has written in her embarrassing WaPo blog and never anticipated referencing it on edReformer, but the guest blog by curmudgeon Larry Cuban nearly  made me puke.
Larry wrote As Good As It Gets: What School Reform Brought to Austin.It’s a defense of Austin TX reforms (which I supported).  It was a good effort but if that’s ‘as good as it gets’ America is in trouble.
Larry suggests an apology for small schools.  Every good non-selective school in America is small.  Every quality school developer in America develops small schools.  The thousands of small schools developed by charter management organizations do the best job of serving low income students of any schools in America.  The hundreds of new schools opened in NYC showed dramatically higher graduation rates than the schools they replaced (often double).  The only thing one could rationally criticize are the dozens of efforts to turn around big bad schools. The best remedy developed for big bad schools: close them and replace them with good small schools.
Next, Cuban goes off on charters misusing Raymond data.  Like Macke, Larry forgot to mention that the study compared existing schools to new charters full of kids with only 1-2 years in the new environment.  The headline of the Raymond study should have been “students do better the longer they attend charters.”
And finally, Larry goes off on technology.  He’s right that layering technology on our Bismarkian school model hasn’t produced widespread benefit.  If other sectors had used similar early evidence, we would not have cars, cell phones, TVs, pharmaceuticals, or the Web.  He’s right, let’s just keep beating on teachers and expect that they’ll help all student achieve high standards with no tools….and let’s let surgeons operate with knife and fork.
It’s clear that blending online and onsite learning is preferable to traditional classrooms:

  • 51 studies of blended learning in higher education make it clear that it produces better results
  • The fact that every large corporation has reengineered its human resource development to incorporate online and just-in-time learning should be some indication that blended learning beats traditional classroom learning
  • The most sophisticated learning organization in the world, the US Military, routinely prepared hundreds of thousands of troops for demanding jobs using blends of classroom and online experiences.
  • Tens of thousands of students are graduating each year because they had the opportunity to learn online at their own pace.

As Gov Wise so eloquently points out in The Online Learning Imperative, there is simply no other way to solve the achievement gap, the teacher gap, and the financial gap.
Despite the fact that most online learning is still pretty flat and sequential, it’s growing by more than 30% annually because it simply works better for kids and is preferred by families.
When we see engaging, adaptive, personalized learning tools like Dreambox and ManagHigh, and programs like School of One, and schools like Rocketship, it’s quite easy to imagine a generation of schools that look and work quite differently. Technology is revolutionizing learning by creating new learning experiences not by being crammed into the schools we have.
It would be possible, by the end of January, to offer every high school student in America access to high quality online AP, math and science, foreign language courses.  The only thing that stands in the way is local and state policy and folks like Larry Cuban mistakenly defending the status quo.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment


I recall Larry's presentation at AEI's Education Entrepreneurship series. We got such hope from you and others; only to have the 2:30 feeling amplified by Larry's dourness. But then, that's his persona, so let him have at it.
More dangerous is Diane Ravitch who has failed to make the same observation about the charter studies...and who has curried a nationwide audience of teachers to eat it up. She's even bagged a >a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leonie-haimson/diane-ravitch-wins-the-20_b_798889.html">prize.


Tom Vander Ark

Agree, Diane has taken to criticizing everything using convenient data in defense of the status quo and offers no solutions

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