Tech Billionaires and Schools-The Next Big Thing or Edufad 10,000.0?

June 7, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The NYT turns in an interesting article on Silicon Valley tech firms and public schools. I hope some of this stuff works out, but there seems to be little in the way of positive evidence as yet.

The Way of the Future: Nanodegrees

May 3, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner

Udacity has bypassed universities to develop partnerships directly with employers to develop markets for nano-degrees earned online. I **ahem** can’t see why a student with an ESA could not earn a couple of these as a high-school student, you know, if it struck their fancy.

ASU and EdX take a Step in the Way of the Future

April 23, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I may have been a bit more skeptical about ASU’s “New American University” rhetoric than the average bear back during the Goldwater days. I tried to resist poking fun at various foibles. Once. It didn’t suit me. Now however I am going to turn over a new leaf and give them props for doing something interesting. From the New York Times:

Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest universities, is joining with edX, a nonprofit online venture founded by M.I.T. and Harvard, to offer an online freshman year that will be available worldwide with no admissions process and full university credit.

In the new Global Freshman Academy, each credit will cost $200, but students will not have to pay until they pass the courses, which will be offered on the edX platform as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.

“Leave your G.P.A., your SATs, your recommendations at home,” said Anant Agarwal, the chief executive of edX. “If you have the will to learn, just bring your Internet connection and yourself, and you can get a year of college credit.”

Man it is going to kill me to admit this but:

Buckle Your Seatbelt Dorothy…

January 20, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Glenn Reynolds previews his new book The New School  in the Atlantic.  He foresees a lot less 19th Century Prussian factory style schooling and a great deal more customized education in our future.  Germane to our recent discussion of education accountability, reformatting our factory model of schooling will also require us to update a 1990s model of academic transparency.  As education becomes increasingly customized through old mechanisms like dual enrollment and new ones like MOOCs the notion of holding any single provider accountable with a minimal skills test will grow increasingly out of date. Texas moved to a system of end of course exams-quite reasonably posing the question “if a student takes a Calculus course, shouldn’t we see whether they learned any ‘Calculus’ or not?”

Good question-but thus far this Texas system has endured an Obamacaresque roll out. Time and technology however continue to march on and we should expect an accelerated pace per Reynolds.  Mastery based learning will inevitably require far more precise measurement of what students have learned.

Meanwhile, the Economist is citing an Oxford study’s conclusion that 47 percent of current jobs could be automated in the next two decades as we see a massive substitution of technology for labor across a whole host of industries. The Economist dutifully notes that technology creates far more wealth and jobs in the long run, but notes that the less than long run can prove quite messy.  Ultimately the article recommends that we get on with updating our education system post-haste:

The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation is through education systems. One of the reasons for the improvement in workers’ fortunes in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution was because schools were built to educate them—a dramatic change at the time. Now those schools themselves need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers. There should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking. Technology itself will help, whether through MOOCs (massive open online courses) or even video games that simulate the skills needed for work.

The definition of “a state education” may also change. Far more money should be spent on pre-schooling, since the cognitive abilities and social skills that children learn in their first few years define much of their future potential. And adults will need continuous education. State education may well involve a year of study to be taken later in life, perhaps in stages.

Add to this chaotic tumult the fact that the country has already begun to enter an era of unprecedented demographic change that will impact all aspects of public policy as the Baby Boom generation moves into retirement.  The working age population will shrink as a percentage of the total, leaving them straining to pay the taxes necessary to maintain the pension, health care and education systems. As an added bonus, even if the Oxford study overestimates  matters, the working age population will face unprecedented professional volatility as technology disrupts the labor market.


If you like your calm, predictable life, you can keep your calm predictable life. Period.

So what to make of all of this?

A certification of knowledge mastery model seems like a realistic way forward to provide continual retraining within a feasible cost structure.  We already give verified third-party end of course exams and MOOC final exams for $89 a pop. Free online coursework continues to expand.  How people socially organize themselves to navigate this tsunami remains to be seen, but it will obviously require a much more flexible, effective and cost-effective system than the one we have today.   As Reynolds notes:

The thing about this is this kind of change tends to happen kind of like the quote about bankruptcy in The Great Gatsby, you know, very slowly and then all at once. I think that we’re coming to the end of the “very slowly” phase and getting to the “all at once.” I think there is going to be fairly dramatic change and a lot of new models. Some of these new models won’t work that well and some of them will, and there will be a period of where are we now? And then it’ll work out.

The Primordial Soup of New School Models

August 25, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Innosight Institute has published The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning, which included this very helpful microscope slide on the primordial soup of new school models. The vast majority of these will probably fail, but some of them have already shown real promise.

Jay and Greg and I were all just at the SPN conference and discussed the need to see some of these school models “jump species” into the private school sector in a workshop  sponsored by the Friedman Foundation.

Technology and School Choice: The False Dichotomy

July 18, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Terry Moe has a great article in today’s Journal about how entrepreneurial innovation taking advantage of new technology is putting the teacher’s unions on the road to oblivion. It’s a great article, except that it draws one false dichotomy.

Fans of JPGB know that we do love us some high-tech transformation of schooling around here. Matt has been on this beat for a long time, and hardly a week goes by that he doesn’t update us on the latest victory of “the cool kids” over “edu-reactionaries” in the reinvention of the school. But he doesn’t own that turf entirely; I made this the theme of my contribution to Freedom and School Choice (as did Matt, of course).

The problem is that Moe insists high-tech transformation of schooling, and the destruction of union control it entails, is absolutely, positively a separate phenomenon from the wave of school reform victories this year:

This has been a horrible year for teachers unions…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…

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…Then there’s a crucial dynamic outside of politics: the revolution in information technology.

Really? The victories of 2011 – “the year of school choice” – aren’t in the same category with the long-term path to oblivion the unions are on? On the contrary, 2011 is the year of school choice precisely because it has become obvious that the unions are on track for oblivion, for the reasons Moe identifies.

Moe’s argument relies on the assumption that when Republicans are in power, they always make dramatic and innovative school reform policies their #1 priority.

Sorry  . . . lost my train of thought I was laughing so hard . . . let me pick myself up off the floor . . . there, now where was I? Oh, yes.

The GOP hasn’t touched real school reforms with a hundred-foot pole in years. Why did it all of a sudden embrace real reform this year?

Could it be because…

  1. …the unions are losing their grip on the Democratic base, meaning squishy Republicans don’t have to worry about being demonized as right-wing loonies simply for embracing real reform, and…
  2. …the revolution in information technology has made it obvious to MSM and other key cultural gatekeepers that the unions are the reactionaries, once again reassuring squishy Republicans they won’t be demonized for embracing real reform?

Obviously the financial crisis was also a factor here, as Moe rightly points out. But is that really an immediate-term phenomenon, bound to disappear next week? What really counts is whether the nation feels so rich it can afford to ignore ballooning school costs. Technically the recession ended two years ago and we’ve been in “recovery” for two years. How’s that feeling? Do we feel rich and luxurious again? Are we on track to restore a widespread national sense of inevitable prosperity by 2012? By 2014? By 2020?

Bottom line, the unions losing Democratic support and taking their stand in opposition to entrepreneurial change was the crucial, indispensable precondition for this year’s wave of school reform success.

Oh, and guess what? Sustaining those policies, especially school choice, will be the only way this wave of advancing technology will produce the results Moe is expecting. Only school choice can prevent the blob from neutralizing any reform you throw at it. If the techno-innovators turn their back on choice and competition, they’ll be dead meat. (For more on that topic, see the aforementioned chapter by your humble servant in Freedom and School Choice.)

Carpe Diem Blended Learning

May 11, 2011


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I will be taking a delegation to see Carpe Diem tomorrow, thought you might like to see this local newscast story on the school:

Digital Learning Utah

May 4, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lawmakers have been passing so many major reform bills in so many states that it can make your head spin. Tenure reform, collective bargaining reform, private choice expansion. Indiana, Oklahoma and Florida have all undertaken multiple major reforms, and a few more Big-10 states seem poised to join them. Sessions are far from over, but it is already clear that 2011 will set a new standard for K-12 reform.

One of the new laws already in the books very much worthy of note is Utah SB 65- The Statewide Online Education Program. The authors of this law drew upon the Digital Learning Now’s Ten Elements of Quality Online Learning to develop a very broad online learning policy. The law funds success rather than just seat time, has no participation caps and allows multiple public and private providers. The program starts for public high school students in grades 9-12 but then phases in home-school and private school students for eligibility. You can read the legislation here.

Last week at the Heritage Resource Bank, I was on a panel with William Mattox from Florida’s James Madison Institute. Mattox gave a fascinating talk about blended learning from the perspective of a parent. Mattox related that he and his wife have been home-schooling, but that their son had been taking a couple of online courses as well. His son decided to join the baseball team of his district school (Florida allows such participation, and it netted their flagship school a Heisman Trophy and national championship).

When his son joined the baseball team, he learned that there were other players on the team doing the same thing. Far from being unusual, this customized learning approach was old hat. It was a very compelling talk, and exactly where Utah is heading. This is the first important step towards Tom Vander Ark’s bracing prediction:

Weʼre headed for radical choice–not just school choice but choice to the lesson level. Weʼll soon have adaptive content libraries and smart recommendation engines that string together a unique ʻplaylistʼ for every student every day. These smart platforms will consider learning level, interests, and best learning modality (i.e.,motivational profile and learning style to optimize understanding and persistence).

Smart learning platforms will be used by some students that learn at home, by some students that connect through hybrid schools with a day or two onsite, and by most students through blended schools that mix online learning with onsite support systems. Choice between physical schools will increasingly be about the learning community they create in terms of the applications and extracurricular opportunities and guidance and support systems. Families will gain the ability to construct a series of learning experiences that fit family needs, schedules, preferences, and interests.


March 12, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Salman Khan on using video to improving education, and taking Khan Academy to the next level. Well worth watching.

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning

February 11, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Michael Horn has been busy: a study on blended learning from Innosight on blended learning. The study features my favorite school, Carpe Diem of Yuma:

Seize the potential


The Carpe Diem Collegiate High School (Carpe Diem) in Yuma, Ariz., is one of the schools that we profiled that exemplified these traits. It provides a glimpse into just one way blended-learning models can reinvent themselves to be both more productive and personalized for the betterment of the students, who, in the case of Carpe Diem, perform at high levels. With 60 percent of its students on free or reduced-price lunch and 48 percent minorities, in 2010 Carpe Diem ranked first in its county in student performance in math and reading and ranked among the top 10 percent of Arizona charter schools.

Driving productivity
Carpe Diem began as a traditional, state charter school serving 280 students in grades 6 to 12. But when it lost its building lease eight years ago, Carpe Diem had to slash its budget and question every assumption about what a “school” should look like. It turned to blended learning.

A large room filled with 280 cubicles with computers—similar in layout to a call center—sits in the middle of Carpe Diem’s current building. Students rotate every 55 minutes between self-paced online learning in this large learning center and face-to-face instruction in traditional classrooms. When students are learning online in

the learning center, paraprofessionals offer instant direction and help as students encounter difficulties. In the traditional classroom, a teacher re-teaches, enhances, and applies the material introduced online. Students attend class four days a week, although the days are longer (7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Only students who need extra assistance come to the school on Friday.


Carpe Diem hires only six full-time certified teachers: one each for math, language arts, science, physical education, social studies, and electives. Each teacher assumes responsibility for all of the students in the school for his or her subject expertise; for example, the math teacher alone provides all face-to-face math instruction that the 273 students receive throughout the week, no matter the course. With only six certified teachers plus the support staff of assistant coaches, guidance counselors, aides, and administrators, the savings are substantial, which allows Carpe Diem to pay its teachers at or above district salaries with a better benefit plan than that of other schools in the area.
In addition, Carpe Diem’s new building, opened in 2006, only includes five traditional classrooms, which is fewer than half as many as a traditional school requires for a similar enrollment level. The building cost $2.7 million to build, whereas a nearby school building currently in the planning stages will cost roughly $12 million and accommodate only 200 more students than Carpe Diem—over 2.5 times more expensive per student.



Anyone want to guess the academic outcomes of that $12m building are likely to compare to Carpe Diem?


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