Union policy shop wants to stop learning online

Funded by a center fronting for Midwest teacher unions, the National Education Policy Center (let’s just call it the NEA Policy Center) in Boulder recently published a hit piece on online learning.  The unstated goal of the brief is to block the rapid growth of online learning, particularly schools supported by Connections and K12.
It’s fascinating that they cite two studies that suggest that online learning outcomes are the same as traditional schools.  They even quote the big SRI conducted Department of Ed sponsored study, “The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
Then they get to the point—they hate full time virtual schools.  Ambient Insight recently suggested that learning at home (virtual schools plus home education) is in the process of doubling and may triple by 2020.  This is the bottom line—a small and annoying leakage of enrollment and associated jobs.
The report raises a ridiculous set of concerns: certification, accreditation, and the authenticity of student work.  The first two don’t add any value in traditional schools.  On the subject of authenticity, online teachers get to know their students even better than onsite teachers.   On the subject of cheating, our friends at NEPC should just Google, Atlanta cheating scandal for a real area of concern.
Finally, the report gets to the real point—there are (OMG!) for-profit companies involved in online learning.   The real purpose of this hit piece is to block K12, Connections, and other private organizations from serving students.   As John Bailey pointed out, this ‘keep the private sector out” strategy has successfully blocked the participating of private sector participating in education to a greater extent than in any other area of public delivery.  It’s why the sector toolset is a decade behind.
What I value (that these CU profs obviously don’t) is that many American families have more quality options today compared to when I was a public school superintendent.  I value the capability to offer every American student access to quality courses and teachers—at least where barriers don’t exist.
There are obviously opportunities to improve quality.  That’s why I’m a director of iNACOL, the online learning association.  We recently published iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, Version 2 and iNACOL National Standards of Quality.   More quality options is also the goal behind Digital Learning Now Report: 10 Elements (12/10) and Digital Learning Now: Roadmap for Reform (released earlier this month).   My interest in more quality options is also why I support the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and why I promote better contracting.
Two thirds of American high school leavers are not prepared for college and careers.  That’s not a time to hit the breaks.  It’s time to expand quality options.  We need policies that take advantage of not block new options.  Read Michael Horn’s last blog on how Colorado’s crummy policies lead to crummy virtual schools.  Read Susan Patrick’s paper on Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-based Learning.  It’s time to hit the gas, not the brakes.   
Connections and K12 are advocacy partners of iNACOL, Digital Learning Now and Getting Smart.   

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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Robert D. Skeels

You're embarrassing yourself Mr. Vander Ark. National Education Policy Center at University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education is one of the most respected sources on education around. Its staff, including the celebrated Dr. Welner, are some of the most knowledgeable experts on education policy in the nation. What are your qualifications again? A businessman and former Gates Foundation executive?
If we want information on education, we'll turn to the experts at NEPC. If we want advice on get rich quick schemes, we'll turn to you and one of your profitable enterprises -- oh wait, online learning is another get rich quick scheme, so perhaps your above comments make sense in that context.


Tom Vander Ark

I'm unapologetically an advocate for the potential of online and blended learning (with full disclosure of my involvements & interests).
The arguments in the study are weak and predictable given the funding for the study. I pointed to 8 other studies/reports that I believe take a more constructive look at current practices and future promise.

Robert D. Skeels


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