Disruption Goes to College

February 10, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Clayton Christensen and company have a new report out on higher education and virtual learning for the Center for American Progress. Hat tip: Dave Saba’s Virtual Learning Blog.


Erin Dillon and Bill Tucker on Online Learning

February 3, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Dillon and Tucker weigh in on virtual learning at Education Next. The Ed Sector duo make a number of good points drawing from the experience of the charter school movement.

I am especially struck by the problem they point to in determining appropriate funding levels for virtual schools. An education savings account funding method for virtual schooling would create a market mechanism for determining cost per course, driving productivity gains. If given the wrong set of incentives, providers will have their profits determined by the success and failure of their lobbying efforts rather than by parental demand.

Of course, high-quality and free online learning tools have appeared on the scene.  Public funding schemes could limit development if compensation systems are not carefully considered.


Panic on the Streets of Florida!

December 16, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Florida governor-elect Rick Scott is making it clear that he is deadly serious about the next wave of Florida K-12 reform.  Worrying about tenure reform is soooo 5 months ago, because Governor-elect Scott mentioned the possibility of letting parents control education funding through Education Savings Accounts. The Goldwater Institute study cited in the paper will be coming out in the not-so-distant-future.

Reactionaries have already started howling.  Mother Jones hates the idea, and started spouting conspiracy theories interrupted only by occasional name-calling. Why wait to actually read a plan when you can go ahead and start complaining about it in advance? Some of the Florida papers have been almost as silly, having apparently learned nothing from having opposed Governor Bush’s reforms only to watch with sheepish silence as Florida shot up the NAEP ranks.

Someone even placed a call to Little Ramona, who as usual these days sings straight out of the AFT hymnal.

This particular rant takes the cake so far. Wow, I mean W*O*W. Check it out:

After a half century of broadening the wealth gap and decimating the middle class, there are many people who would prefer a return to near feudal conditions, when religion, educational disadvantages and abject poverty were used to more easily control the lower classes. A massive expansion in vouchers would be a giant step in that direction and it should be no surprise that billionaire members of the ruling class (like Scott) are lending their support.

When does my “ruling class” membership card arrive in the mail?  I mean really, feudalism gets such a bum rap these days. We don’t need feudalism-we need Neo-Feudalism! You know, the Dead-Hand-of-Clericalism grasps the Invisible-Hand-of-the-Market around the neck of the working class and squeezes!

Oi vey

Stay tuned for the study…I’m afraid the reality will seem terribly reasonable in comparison to the fever dreams of opponents.


The Way of the Future: Digital Learning Now!

December 1, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Digital Learning Council, led by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, released a blueprint on online learning today at Jebfest the Foundation for Excellence in Education summit in DC. The summit was a smashing success more than doubled the attendance from last year, with lawmakers, educators, activists and state superintendents from 34 states.

I have read the blueprint and think lays out a great vision for the transformation of learning. My only suggestion is that digital learning enthusiasts need to put greater emphasis on transforming private school models though technology.

If organizations were able to proliferate a number of high-quality/low-cost private schools based, with technology helping to keep costs down, I’m guessing we would see a more rapid pace of change in the public sector as well. To be sure, there are plenty of other things that already make this urgent, such as state bankruptcy and enormous educational deficits, but some healthy competition can only help matters.


Catholic Schools version 2.0

October 21, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I have been participating in a series of conversations about the future of Catholic schools, in part because Arizona’s tax credit system has helped Catholic schools defy a national trend towards closures. During a recent discussion, the point was made that waves of Catholic immigrants opened schools during the 19th Century, but the current Hispanic wave is not replicating this trend. This got me to thinking “Why not?”

Part of the reason: finances. The religious orders from which the Catholic schools of old drew for faculty have declined in numbers. The low-cost part of a low-cost/high quality education has steadily eroded.

Catholic schools generally have the basics down for success a strong culture controlled by the staff focused on academics, active opt-in required by parents.  Suburbanization and the decline in participation in religious orders have thrown Catholic schools into a spiral of decline nationally. The advent of charter schools threatens to deliver the coup de grace for inner city Catholic schools, many of which have served as the only high quality schooling option in their neighborhoods for decades.

Today’s Catholic immigrants don’t face the same type of religious discrimination faced by their 19th Century forerunners, but let’s face it, they are getting the short end of the public schooling stick more often than not. Earlier I had written about the possibility of creating high quality/low-cost private schools in which content is partially delivered through technology. So could this come in the form of Catholic schools version 2.0?

A little snooping around on google revealed that people are way ahead of me. Go here for a link to a Virtual Catholic school effort aimed at both Catholic homeschoolers and supplementing the effort of existing Catholic schools. They even mention a “Clicks and Bricks” solution on the page.

Began in 2009 in Florida (of course) the project’s first release explained:

“Our core mission is to partner with existing Catholic schools so that they can extend their reach, and broaden their curriculum offerings without the added expense of staffing high end, small class loads. We offer a cost effective alternative for small, advanced classes, summer school programs, credit recovery, hospital-homebound programs, and many other options, saving schools the expense of running their own costly programs in the traditional manner. Students may sign up for individual classes, or schools may enroll entire classes or grade levels of students with us.”

Can technology and programs such as the Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame and elsewhere replace the religious orders in the cost structure of Catholic schools?  How far can innovative school models such as Cristo Rey go if they successfully substitute technology for labor to lower costs? What does the staffing stucture look like for a hybrid school, and what is the optimal mix of personal instruction and technology? On the revenue side, can states with significant and growing tax credit programs provide the seed capital to spur this type of innovation? Moreover, could a Spanish/English online Catholic school hybrid model (clicks and mortar) lead to a revival of the high quality/low-cost Catholic schooling in both the United States and Latin America?

I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that there is both a revenue and a cost side to providing K-12 options to disadvantaged children.  If Catholic schools reboot, they might not only survive, they just might prosper. I’m anxious to see what happens next.


Khan Explains Yet Another Reason to Distrust the French

October 9, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Alec Baldwin and other Hollywood types were going to move to France after Dubya won the 2000 Presidential election. While they are there, perhaps they could start a campaign to have France pay back Haiti for the outrageous payment which it extracted by embargo for “lost property” (e.g. slaves) after the Haitian Revolution.

Thirteen billion dollars would do the trick, unless you want to charge interest, in which case the French might need to sell Versailles and the Riviera to raise capital. The French could put the money into a micro-finance outfit to help Haitian entrepreneurs, and call it even. It’s not like the money is going to create any new products, jobs or services in France after all.


Khan Academy ROCKS

October 7, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So here is what I have learned so far from Khan Academy.

First, my son Benjamin and I reviewed the French Revolution, the rise of and fall of Napoleon the sordid history of France in Haiti in this series of videos.

Next, I learned more about the housing bubble in this series of videos.

My son Jacob, who is in 3rd grade, reviewed two digit multiplication in this video.

Khan Academy covers hundreds of topics, and is adding more. The main menu is here.

A bedrock assumption for any system of schooling, whether public or private, is that knowledge is scarce and must be imparted by trained specialists to students. Knowledge is no longer scarce, and our methods for communicating it have been evolving. Our training of specialists and pairing them with students leaves much to be desired.

I don’t know where all of this is going, but I am anxious to find out.


Way of the Future: Khan Academy

October 2, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So a 33 year old hedge fund analyst has created a Youtube site to put up hundreds of discrete lessons in Math, Science, Finance and History. Khan Academy gives these lessons away for free, and there are online tests available on the site.

Here is a PBS Newshour story on Khan Academy:

So, is it just me, or could people use Khan Academy to develop low-cost and high quality private schools? Remember, you heard it here first.