Friday, July 31, 2009

Benefits of online unversity courses

It is always great to listen to a professor talk about the benefits of online learning in one of his classes. In this case it is Dr. Gregory Stone, an associate professor of research and measurement at the University of Toledo and a board member at ABCTE. He is teaching online classes and is amazed by two things:

  1. More discussion of topics by students
  2. More students appear to be doing the reading

Both anecdotal but make a lot of sense. Students are naturally shy and, with a few notable exceptions in every class, this generation does not seem too eager to answer questions in front of their peers. In an online atmosphere students can prepare their responses and have a lot less fear of putting comments on bulletin boards and chats.

As for connection to his students, Dr. Stone says he has a lot more contact with more individuals in the class which has been a huge bonus for online classes. But the biggest surprise is the fact that most students appear to be doing the reading to be prepared for the chats – much more then did the reading in brick and mortar classes.

Bottom line is better learning for his students to the point that he would prefer to keep this class online. However, not all classes benefit from the online experience once again pointing to the hybrid model of learning that will be the future of education.

The Cartel - watch it

Fridays need to be simplified – especially in the blogosphere. So I just wanted to provide some quick thoughts on The Cartel – the documentary that looks at education in New Jersey but could apply to any state. To me the most powerful point in the movie is the charter school lottery. The artificial caps on the number of charter schools in this country means that in many places you have to put your name into a lottery to see if you get to go to a great school.

In the movie two women get so overwhelmed by the fact that their daughters get in, they have to leave the classroom where the lottery is held and go outside to celebrate. When asked what this means to their daughters they simply say - this has saved her life, she now has a chance at success. The striking contrast is the next shot which shows a girl with tears just streaming down her face because she did not get in.

Imagine your life decided by a lottery. Imagine your safety and success are totally dependent on a random drawing. It is absolutely pathetic.

The second striking thing is the interview with the head of the NJEA teacher’s union who demonstrates a total lack of concern for students. In one case she is asked if it is OK that a teacher with massive anger management issues punched a student in the face and could not be fired. Her response is that of course it is OK as long as there is due process it is a good thing.

Finally, if you have not seen Derrell Bradford speak on how to save students, you have not seen passion in education. He was brilliant and you cannot help but get excited by the opportunity to do anything to save kids from hideous schools when he is done.

It is definitely worth seeing the film and if you are in education reform – you need to show it in your state. Thanks to Dan Lips and Heritage for the screening!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Politics of Blocking

It was pretty nice of iNACOL (the online learning group) to give out copies of Liberating Learning by Terry Moe and John Chubb at the ALEC Conference last week. It is a pretty easy read that I finished on the plane to Mississippi yesterday.

I wish I had read it five years ago.

Moe and Chubb give you a primer on the political strategy of the teacher’s union. They call it the politics of blocking. The key points they make are dead on:
1. Teacher’s unions are very powerful at the state and local level
2. It is much easier to block legislation than it is to pass it
3. If it looks like it might pass – they can push for a delay – request lengthy study for a few years
4. If it starts to pass, you can always load it up with a ton of junk amendments to make the implementation impossible
5. If it does pass, immediately start attacking either through the courts or new legislation the next year

While the politics of blocking is a cute name, it is also the politics of wearing you down. ABCTE really could have used this information when we started as I learned all of this the hard way.

One thing they leave out of the politics of blocking is that we need a politics of moving to counteract. If education reforms wants to ever become a “movement” instead of disparate entities pushing for single agenda, it will need to have a state level group in every state pushing just as hard.

The theory they put forth in the book on how education will ultimately change is that technology, both in innovation and in information, will rule the day. Technology is cool and parents want it. Unions are resisting online schools because of the fear of job losses. But eventually, parents will demand greater technology in the classroom and as the information about efficacy of teaching and schools continues to proliferate, the demands will increase.

They are correct and tangentially agree with Disrupting Class by Christensen et al that technology will save education. They just disagree a little on the method that will make this happen. They also put forth their view of the “education of tomorrowland” – but I will write about that at the other blog.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Online learning: US gets left in the dust again

iNACOL, the International Association for Online Learning held an excellent seminar at ALEC on the future of education. The facts are pretty stunning on the numbers for online learning here and abroad.

It is well known that we are falling behind in K12 because other countries are moving so much faster than we are. What you may not know, and I certainly didn't know, is that this is especially true in online learning where developing nations are using online to rapidly, and dramatically, increase access to education for all their students.

Consider these facts:
• In the US we have gone from 50,000 online students in 2000 to over 1,000,000 in 2008 which sounds pretty good until you read the others
• The European Union put all of the International Baccalaureate courses online to increase access across the 26 million students there
• China has digitize the entire K-12 curriculum and is working on improving internet access. They expect over 100,000,000 new online students in the next 10 years
• India would need to build over 200,000 schools to provide education for all students. Instead they have worked with Educomp to digitize their curriculum and train teachers to provide online learning - this will provide an education to tens of millions of students in the coming years
• Turkey completed building out their online K12 curriculum and have gone from no online students to 15,000,000 online students in just three years

Yet, the NEA got the Wisconsin courts to close the online school in that state. The parents had to fight back and get the legislature to reopen the school. I just started reading Liberating Learning by Moe and Chubb. They talk about how easy it is for the unions to block reforms that might hurt members even if it would help kids. Anyone who has fought to pass education reforms will appreciate this line from the book:
“The American political system is literally designed, therefore, to make blocking – and thus preserving the status quo – far easier than taking positive action.”

Online education is coming in a big way. The current university and K12 systems are not moving fast enough because of resistance from the status quo. But they must change or they will be obsolete in the coming years. More to come on this.

Monday, July 13, 2009

And nothing much happened.....

I am back from vacation, and it was a great one, and I am always eager to find out what has changed in the last week or so. Of course, nothing really changes in education in July so I was not too surprised to find very little flowing in the education news arena.

I guess the two biggest stories is the NEA admitting they are a union and the a smattering of stories that the huge stimulus money in education isn’t really doing much for innovation. Neither all that surprising but both have pretty big implications.

The NEA move is actually refreshing and a continuation of improved candor. They are, and should be, focused on improving the lives of their members. I have continued to see this at the state level and continue to work much more closely with them to resolve any problems they may have with our program. It also seems like more decision makers in education have come to this understanding as well. It makes for much more productive conversations when it motivations are clear.

As for the lost opportunity for the stimulus dollars – again no shock. It will be very easy to poke holes at some issues like this, and it is a pretty big disappointment. I remember when states were required to tell the US DOE what they were doing different on teacher recruitment to get to 100% highly qualified – every single state repackaged what they were currently doing in the “innovation” banner and said that now, their same old tired techniques were going to result in more math and science teachers.

Guess I didn’t miss much at all last week – but it is good to be back and resume the fight so that every child has a great teacher.