Sunday, October 23, 2011

Can virtual schools save Mississippi?

The Wall Street Journal published an essay a few months ago by a Fellow at the Hoover Institute arguing technology is about to drastically change how the educational system is organized. Using the Florida Virtual School as an example, he posits such schools will bring hope to those stuck in bad school districts or lacking access to quality education. The essay starts out as an attack on unions but halfway through it addresses the changes brought about by information technology. Read on:

"This has been a horrible year for teachers unions. The latest stunner came in Michigan, where Republicans enacted sweeping reforms last month that require performance-based evaluations of teachers, make it easier to dismiss those who are ineffective, and dramatically limit the scope of collective bargaining. Similar reforms have been adopted in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Tennessee, Idaho and Florida.

But the unions' hegemony is not going to end soon. All of their big political losses have come at the hands of oversized Republican majorities. Eventually Democrats will regain control, and many of the recent reforms may be undone. The financial crisis will pass, too, taking pressure off states and giving Republicans less political cover.

The unions, meantime, are launching recall campaigns to remove offending Republicans, initiative campaigns to reverse legislation, court cases to have the bills annulled, and other efforts to reinstall the status quo ante—some of which are likely to succeed. As of today, they remain the pre-eminent power in American education.

Over the long haul, however, the unions are in grave trouble—for reasons that have little to do with the tribulations of this year.

The first is that they are losing their grip on the Democratic base. With many urban schools abysmally bad and staying that way, advocates for the disadvantaged are demanding real reform and aren't afraid to criticize unions for obstructing it. Moderates and liberals in the media and even in Hollywood regularly excoriate unions for putting job interests ahead of children. Then there's Race to the Top—initiated over union protests by a Democratic president who wants real reform. This ferment within the party will only grow in the future.

Then there's a crucial dynamic outside of politics: the revolution in information technology. This tsunami is only now beginning to swell, and it will hit the American education system with full force over the next few decades. The teachers unions are trying to stop it, but it is much bigger than they are.

Online learning now allows schools to customize coursework to each child, with all kids working at their own pace, receiving instant remedial help, exploring a vast array of courses, and much more. The advantages are huge. Already some 39 states have set up virtual schools or learning initiatives that enroll students statewide, often providing advanced placement courses, remedial courses, and other offerings that students can't get in their local schools.

The national model is the Florida Virtual School, which offers a full academic curriculum, has more than 220,000 course enrollments per year, and is a beacon of innovation. Outside of government, tech entrepreneurs like K12 and Connections Academy are swarming all over the education sector. They are the innovative force behind the rise of virtual charters, which now operate in 27 states, enroll some 200,000 full-time students (who typically do their studying at home), and stand at the cutting edge of technology's advance.

This is just the opening salvo. Most American parents want their kids to actually go to school—to a physical place. So the favored virtual schools of the future will be hybrids of traditional and online learning. There are already impressive examples.

At the high-performing Rocketship schools in San Jose, Calif., for example, students take a portion of their academics online—generating $500,000 in savings per school annually. Schools use that money for higher teacher salaries and one-on-one tutoring.

As the cyber revolution comes to American education, it will bring about a massive and cost-saving substitution of technology for labor. That means far fewer teachers (and union members) per student. It also means teachers will be far less concentrated in geographic districts, as those who work online can be anywhere. It'll thus be far more difficult for unions to organize. There will also be much more diversity in educational offerings, and money and jobs will flow out of the (unionized) regular schools into new (nonunion) providers of online options.

The confluence of these forces—plus the shifting political tides among Democrats—will inexorably weaken the unions, sapping them of members, money and power. It will render them less and less able to block reform. The political doors will increasingly swing open to reforms that simply make good sense for children and for society.

So the unions can weather the Republican attacks of 2011. But the real threats to their power are more subtle, slowly developing—and potent.

Mr. Moe is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor of political science at Stanford University. His latest book is "Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public
"

Now here is where I think this could get real interesting in Mississippi. It is my contention that Mississippi is a poor state and will not have the money to give to education required for real progress in the next ten years. Let's face it, Mississippi is in last place. We are not going to have the money to get classroom sizes down to the levels desired by educators nor substantially raise salaries. The political will to hold teachers accountable and truly reform the schools is non-existent as the Democrats and Black Caucus will fight every effort to change things. What do you expect when Mississippi NAACP President says he does not see the need for the Barksdale Institute in Mississippi?* They are like the Redcoats in the French and Indian Wars: marching in the forest in formation in bright red coats while the snipers of illiteracy shoot from the darkness, wiping them out. We've been talking education reform for nearly thirty years and guess what- we are still at the bottom.

What could happen with new information technology is a high-performing district like Petal or Clinton could offer accredited online education (even for an affordable fee) to other Mississippi residents. Bring them in a few times a year for the standardized tests. It could work. Parents stuck in rural or bad school districts could finally obtain quality education for their children. However, the Democrats, teachers, and more than a few local government officials will strongly oppose such reforms. Well, they can stick their heads in the sand all they want but what will happen is a Mississippi private school will see the light and offer such a curriculum while dropping the price of tuition.

Jackson Academy, Jackson Prep and other quality private schools: looking for ways to raise money without increasing costs? Here is an idea worth examining: Set up an online curriculum for students throughout Mississippi and drop the tuition for the program down to $2,000 or less a year. St. Josephs: think of how many Catholics in Mississippi would love to be able to provide a Catholic education to their kids but have no access to such schooling in their areas? Don't look for ways to gouge these people or charge more money than if one actually attends the school (Now that would be the Mississippi way, wouldn't it?), set a price that will bring in the maximum number of students while earning a nice profit for the school. Such a reform could give more minority and disadvantaged children access to a better education much more quickly than waiting for public schools to fix themselves.

The truth is, education budgets are going to be strapped for quite some time and we will not be able to afford the extra $300 million a year the state Board of Education desires. That means Mississippi has to get smarter about how to improve education in Mississippi and that means looking at all ideas, not just the traditional ones that bear no resemblance to reality.


* From this article: "Derrick Johnson says that while he appreciates the urgency of Barksdale’s approach, he considers the principals program another example of the continual, disruptive churn of school reform.

“One of the things that I have always been interested in figuring out is why every two to three years, we’re always seeking to reform education, when in fact we have many best practices that have already been proven to be effective,” Johnson says. “It’s another example that children are being experimented with
.”

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

>The political will to hold teachers accountable and truly reform the schools is non-existent as the Democrats and Black Caucus will fight every effort to change things.

Why separate the Black Caucus in this sentence? Is the LBC its own political party? Is there a split between most white Democrats and LBC members on wanting to fund our public schools and not dismantle them in order to use public funds for private schools?

Or are you trying to say that LBC members are somehow more opposed to public education than "other" Democrats?

I can see separating subgroups when talking about the ways subgroups might vote -- rural white Dems, metro white Dems, LBC members and DINOs.

But here? Seems like different motives, though I can't put my finger on what those motives might be. Perhaps it's a subconscious thing with you. Or, maybe it's not subconscious at all maybe it's quite intentional.

Ann Onimous said...

I can't see Clinton stepping up for that. Heck, they even give those of us on affidavit a hard time before they allow our kids to come to school. I can't see them spreading their knowledge outside their school district.

Kingfish said...

Because the black caucus has led the charge against charter schools and other similar reforms, namely Willie Perkins and George Flaggs. See Willie's comments up in Greenville a couple of years ago. Throw in Derrick Johnson and yeah, I criticize them because they are the ones who are so vocal. they think any reform are attempts to implement segregation. You can' reason with them or get them to consider any changes that don't involve spending more money on programs and teachers in public schools.

Anonymous said...

"I criticize them because they are the ones who are so vocal. they think any reform are attempts to implement segregation."...
Sadly, the schools in Mississippi (JPS) are essentially segregated now. So what is their point.

Anonymous said...

" French and Indian War "

That's a good one !

Derrick Johnson and George Flaggs
are still scratch'n their heads over that analogy .

Doubt' they've ever heard of that aspect of American
History.

Missy said...

A really good example of a virtual college is the MS Community College Board's (MCCB) MS Virtual Community College (MSVCC). It is a nationwide model and our own MS four-year colleges and universities (USM, JSU) are modeling after it.

Shadowfax said...

'Virtual Education' is the new earned diploma. For years we've endured HBCU's cranking out fraudulent credentials. Now they're being eclipsed by Phoenix et al's new brand of fraudulent credentials. Can internet HS diplomas be far behind? The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

Anonymous said...

"Now here is where I think this could get real interesting in Mississippi. It is my contention that Mississippi is a poor state and will not have the money to give to education required for real progress in the next ten years."

I disagree. The money we spend on K-12 education in Mississippi IS enough to provide a quality education to every child. Unfortunately, the Mississippi Department of Education will not change the way the money is spent so it gets past administrators and into the classroom. Throwing more money into a failing system will not make it work.

Anonymous said...

Well, 9:42; please give us the benefit of your knowledge. If money does not 'bypass' the administration, are you suggesting it be spent THERE? Way too much money is already poured down ratholes at the State Department and at the District Administration levels. Maybe you didn't know that though.

Anonymous said...

Actually, 10:46, I would cut the number of school districts, and therefore the number of administrators, in half just for starters. MDE doesn't need more money. It needs a complete overhaul, but that will never happen because MDE and the Legislature are completely committed to the status quo.

Anonymous said...

But, 1:43, that has nothing whatever to do with your earlier post. Try to stay on point. I too want to see the number of districts reduced. And if you've not been inside 'the state department' (as they call it) lately, you'd be flabbergasted at the fat there. However, since district reallignment will never happen, your suggestion that the money be bottlenecked at the administrative level is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi HAD a virtual high school for several years. Might be worth someone's time to find out why it is no longer administered under MDE. ;-) http://www.mvps.mde.k12.ms.us/

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