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


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

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. ;-)

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

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Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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