Paul Peterson created Education Policy MOOC

August 5, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

MOOC there it is!  How long until Paul’s stodgy students get hip with MOOCs?

When I left you I was but a learner, now I am the master

April 24, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Fascinating story about how a high school student in Mongolia aced an MIT EdX MOOC, and then became a student at MIT at age 17 with a research assistant job to help improve MOOCs.

The Disaggregation Era of K-12

February 10, 2014

Pay attention 007, and do try to keep up!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mike McShane hosted an event last week at the American Enterprise Institute, and I had the opportunity to serve on a panel with Mike, Andy Smarick and Kara Kerwin.  During the discussion, Andy confessed that what he found the “disaggregation” of K-12 unsettling. This came up in the context of a discussion of Arizona’s ESA program and students like Jordan Visser:

“How do you assign a teacher of record?” I recall Andy asking.  For Jordan, such a question is already antiquated. Should his tutor be classified as the teacher of record? Or the physical therapists? Mr. or Mrs. Visser?  What if Jordan is taking a MOOC from Stanford is a few years? Should the state of Arizona attempt to hold Stanford “accountable” for what Jordan learns?

Personally I choose “none of the above.”

The trend towards disaggregation in K-12 predates Arizona’s still tiny ESA program.  The ESA program can in fact simply be viewed as the best vehicle for managing a customization trend as a quasi-market mechanism that gets us as close as possible to realizing the benefits of markets while preserving the public funding of K-12. The disaggregation trend however has been moving out into the bloodstream for decades. Consider the following program data from Florida:

Florida disagregation

This is a snapshot of traditional “school choice as you knew it at the end of the 20th Century.”  Most but not all of these choices are mutually exclusive such that they are something any one student does to the exclusion of others. You don’t expect to find many students for instance enrolled in a private school full-time and doing full-time virtual instruction, for instance. Most of these options are either/or propositions you are either sitting in this type of seat, or that type of seat. Major avenues of part-time education, such as dual college enrollment and virtual education, are not included, so we are just getting warmed up.

Let’s take virtual education on next:

FLVS Credits

The Florida Virtual School is not the only supplier of accredited virtual courses in Florida, so the 148,000 or so courses they provided in 2011-12 underestimates the strength of the trend. Nevertheless FLVS long ago begged the question: if a child takes an online Mandarin course from an approved online provider, just what, if anything, does this have to do with the results on the host schools’ accountability scores?

“I’ll take ‘Absolutely Nothing at All’ for a Thousand, Trebek!

Needless to say, FLVS found it necessary to develop alternative methods for measuring student achievement related directly to course content.  High-school students have been taking classes at community colleges for decades with what appears to be an entirely understandable disinterest in sorting through just how much responsibility, if any, the Community College holds for what happens on the high-school students minimal skills accountability exam.

So what happens when we mix dual enrollment with virtual education?


Since we live in an age of wonders, we have over a thousand Massive Open Online Courses provided by some of the finest universities in the world available for free. Oh and the number of courses keeps growing. Did I mention that it has already been worked out for MOOC students to take third-party proctored final exams and receive college credit for them? Yes, right, that too.  Has anyone thought through the fact that the $89 cost for a third-party end of course exam may prove incredibly attractive for both families but also to schools who don’t enjoy having a portion of their budget sent off to an online provider?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves Trebek! I’ll take ‘Months that begin with Oct’ for five hundred…

So, let us imagine a 15-year-old taking a Calculus class from, say, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He or she successfully completes a third-party end of course exam, he or she either is or in the near future will be eligible for college credit from a large number of universities around the world. Obviously provision for this student to receive high-school calculus credit will need to be made as well if we are to maintain any semblance of sanity.  Should authorities in Arizona disallow this because MIT’s Calculus course doesn’t precisely fit the state of Arizona’s state standards?

I’ll take “Seriously, you have got to be kidding me!” for a thousand Alex.

In short, the disaggregation genie is out of the bottle, and the trend looks set to accelerate in the coming years. As our system of education evolves it will be necessary to update our thinking regarding transparency and accountability: they are already out of date and will be increasingly so moving forward.  It would be absurd to require Jordan Visser to take the AIMS test. The AIMS has nearly played itself out for the 19th Century factory model school system in Jordan’s home state and has nothing to do with Jordan.  Regarding the ESA program, the public’s interest in transparency would be better served by collecting national norm reference exam data and having them analyzed by a qualified academic researcher.  Regarding the broader education system, Texas has already moved to replace minimal skills tests with subject specific end of course exams at the high school level. If a student takes a Physics class, shouldn’t we be curious as to whether or not they learned any “Physics”?

Creative destruction usually kills outdated ideas before outdated organizations. Our notions about how to provide transparency in a changing K-12 world have been running behind schedule.

The Way of the Future: Southern New Hampshire University

January 3, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

What happens when a small, struggling university puts Clay Christensen on their board? Slate provides the answer: you go from almost folding to an online learning juggernaut.  We should keep an eye on the Open America project in particular. I imagine that this and similar projects might be especially attractive to home-school students, especially given the likelihood that Associates Degree > High School Diploma in the eyes of both the job market and college admissions officials.

Will the success of SNHU and similar ventures prompt one or more of the complacent players with a serious academic brand to move into this space?  The Slate article links to a report that says that a third of American universities have declining financial situations, so stay tuned…

Use the Force MOOC! A 2013 retrospective

December 26, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The after-Christmas but before New Year period is always dominated by “Year in Review” retrospectives, so why not join in on the fun? Here at the Jayblog we dig new options for students and parents, so let’s take a look back at 2013.

Digital learning continues to surge. No one has yet established the free online degree that some nutball predicted in 2009, but events are moving in that direction. Dhawal Shah of EdSurge leads us off with a review of the progress of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in 2013. Shah includes MOOCilicous charts like:




MOOC 2and…


All of this is quite impressive given the first MOOC rolled out in 2011. Shah provides analysis and 2014 predictions, so go read the article. Events seem to be conspiring to take a very sharp pin to a higher education tuition bubble. One cannot help but wonder how long we will go on debating public funding for online high-school courses when, ahhh, Stanford is giving them away for free and you can, well, get college credit for them.  The logical side of Kevin Carey’s brain (the one that writes about higher education) turned in a useful refutation of the hand-wringing over MOOC completion rates.

Remember where you heard it first- the day is coming when more people will be watching university lectures online than Baywatch reruns.

Please note: I did not say it would be any time soon…

On the K-12 front, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published an evaluation of state charter school laws finding widespread improvement between 2010 and 2013. Bottom line: break out the bubbly. Thirty-five states improved their laws, only one law regressed. Seven states “essentially overhauled” their laws with major improvements-Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Colorado. Ten more states-Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio made “notable improvements” in their charter law.

Here at Jayblog we have our annual measure of success in the private choice movement the Forster vs. Mathews school choice dinner bet. Greg either doubled or tripled the standard in 2011, and followed up by easily surmounting it once more in 2012.

In 2013, ooops Greg did it again!  Three-peat!  Two new states (Alabama and South Carolina) joined the school choice ranks, North Carolina went BIG on reform, including two new voucher programs, Ohio and Wisconsin passed new statewide programs, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana and Utah improved existing programs.

So 2013 was a fine year overall for choice, grading on the curve of comparing it to past years. Compared to the needs of the country, this is all still painfully slow, so…

The world as you knew it at the end of the 20th Century…

August 15, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Derrell Bradford hits TEDx on digital disruption, choice and education:

Being a Luddite is an Act of Absurdity

July 12, 2013


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Very rich unintentional hilarity on MOOCs and the devastation that they will bring.

Go read it now, and when you have stopped laughing and have dried the tears from your eyes, a little Danny Devito refresher course in creative destruction might be in order:

The Way of the Future: Georgia Tech and Udacity Announce $7,000 MOOC Masters Degree

May 15, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Georgia Tech has partnered with Udacity to provide a $7,000 Masters Degree in Computer Science to 10,000 students. Check it out here. At one-sixth of the usual price for such a degree we are officially moving closer to this prediction:

Imagine if students in Bangladesh could earn a Princeton math degree, or a theology degree from Notre Dame for free, or more accurately for the time, computer and internet cost. The marginal players of the American academy would squeal as they are forced to reinvent themselves from making buggy whips, but this is a small price to pay for bringing opportunity to the world.

The only question in my mind is how long it will be until an elite player has the necessary vision to defect from the comfortable cartel. Several universities have the means to do this, and could receive philanthropic help to do so. Attention Oxford and Cambridge: it wouldn’t require an American university to pull this off. A British university could put out a low-cost version of this, and unlike their American counterparts, they aren’t swimming in resources.

Georgia Tech’s move does not qualify it as the defector, but things are moving quickly and in this direction. The loud noise that just shook the windows was the sound of the higher education cost bubble popping.

Panic on the Streets of Motown

April 20, 2013

Michigan Skunk Works tries to create better and cheaper schools…errr….I mean UX restores artwork in underground workshop…

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Just to take the UX theme a bit further, you can get a pretty good insight into much of what is wrong with our education policy discussion by reading this article from the Detroit News:

Education reform group forges voucher-like plan for Michigan

Proposal would create ‘value schools’ to operate at lesser cost than  now

From The Detroit News:

Only in education could having a group of people working to design a more effective and cost-efficient service be viewed as some sort of dark conspiracy. I mean the Trial Urban District Assessment of NAEP reveals that a full 7% of Detroit 8th graders can read at a Proficient level- only 93% to go. Why would anyone want to seek a better return on the annual investment for the almost $20k per student spent in DPS? Perhaps when the people of Michigan evolve from their cheap skate tendencies and spend $40,000 per student per year they will get that proficiency rate up to 14%.

Or perhaps not.

Notice the use of the term “voucher-like” when in fact the Michigan constitution prohibits public funds following a child to a private school rather completely. I guess it is “voucher-like” however in that vouchers clearly deliver superior academic results for less money. Other than that this plan sounds like an interesting combination of digital learning, charter schools and education savings accounts. Sadly the Pascal Monnett types of the Motor City will quickly be trying to find ways to undermine them.

HT: RedefinED twitter feed.

Chingos Strikes Again

February 22, 2013

Yesterday, I blogged about a new study by Matt Chingos and Marty West about pension reform in Florida.  Now I see that Matt has struck again with a great study about on-line learning in the current issue of Education Next.  Matt, along with co-authors William Bowen, Kelly Lack and Thomas Nygren, conducted a random assignment evaluation of an online statistics course that was offered at six universities.

Students were assigned by lottery either to a traditional course or a course where the bulk of the instruction was provided by inter-active software supplemented by weekly discussion sections.  The bottom line is that students did no better or worse in measured learning outcomes regardless of whether they received the course in the traditional way or via the internet.  The authors suggest that these results should temper wild claims about improved learning from online instruction as well as wild accusations that online fails to deliver.  They seem to be equally effective.  But the authors add that online delivery has significant potential to reduce the cost of delivering education and may have significant benefits for retention of students.

Here’s their conclusion in their own words:

In the case of online learning, where millions of dollars are being invested by a wide variety of entities, we should perhaps expect that there will be inflated claims of spectacular successes. The findings in this study warn against too much hype. To the best of our knowledge, there is no compelling evidence that online learning systems available today—not even highly interactive systems, which are very few in number—can in fact deliver improved educational outcomes across the board, at scale, on campuses other than the one where the system was born, and on a sustainable basis….

We do not mean to suggest that ILO systems are a panacea for this country’s deep-seated education problems. Many claims about “online learning” (especially about simpler variants in their present state of development) are likely to be exaggerated. But it is important not to go to the other extreme and accept equally unfounded assertions that adoption of online systems invariably leads to inferior learning outcomes and puts students at risk. We are persuaded that well-designed interactive systems in higher education have the potential to achieve at least equivalent educational outcomes while opening up the possibility of freeing up significant resources that could be redeployed more productively.

They also consider the implication of this higher education study for online instruction in K-12:

Extrapolating the results of our study to K–12 education is hardly straightforward. College students are expected to have a degree of self-motivation and self-discipline that younger students may not yet have achieved. But the variation among students within any given age cohort is probably much greater than the differences from one age group to the next. At the very least, one could expect that online learning for students planning to enter the higher-education system would be an appropriate experience, especially if colleges and universities continue to expand their online offerings. It is not too soon to seek ways to test experimentally the potential of online learning in secondary schools as well.

You can read the full article here.

[Edited to correct omitted co-author and for clarity]


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