Education Reform and Technology

Bill Gates just posted a useful discussion based upon the book Liberating Learning by Terry Moe and John Chubb:

(…) It says that since the National Commission on Excellence in Education published the landmark report A Nation at Risk in 1983, there have been a lot of efforts to reform education, but steps that would have created major change have been blocked.

Specifically, things like teacher measurement, pay for performance, teacher choice, charter schools, and vouchers have only been tried in very limited ways.

(…) Another phenomenon is charter schools that offer over half of their courses online: 26 of the 40 states that allow charters have these schools. Four states – Arizona, California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – have over 10,000 students in such schools.

The book talks about two Dayton, Ohio, cyber charters and an early Pennsylvania charter called PACyber. When these schools started in the 1990s, they were true pioneers, and the curriculum and software were not very good. The description of how these schools work today is very compelling.

A key question the book explores is whether the use of technology in education will be blocked in a way that will keep educators from starting up the necessary learning curve.

The authors have seen a lot of attempts at reform blocked or diluted so they don’t have any impact. They are articulate about how powerful the status quo is in our political system and how someone pushing for change can be stopped in many ways. They give examples of tactics unions use to block experimentation and hold things back. The book offers charts showing that virtual schools, cyber charters, and rich data systems are less developed in the more unionized states. I agree with the authors about how tough it is to change the status quo, but the challenge is not just the unions.