Nationalization Train Starts Going Off the Tracks

December 19, 2011

Let the in-fighting begin.

Supporters of digital learning, many of whom were among the strongest supporters of national standards, have organized in opposition to the imposition of a single test on the nation’s schools.  As it stands, the federal government is dumping several hundred million dollars on two testing consortia to develop assessments based on the federally “incentivized” Common Core standards.  A choice of two tests is not the same as a single test, but it is darn close.  It’s like the old joke where you have a choice between death or roo-roo.

The backers of digital learning organized by Innosight issued a group letter in which they express their desire for a multitude of testing options because they (finally) recognize the connection between choice and innovation:

Create a dynamic testing ecosystem, not another one-size-fits-all assessment. Rather than a single common test, the federal-funded opportunity offers the potential to create a vibrant assessment ecosystem comprised of multiple platforms, open-item banks, and multiple testing options that encourages deeper learning. An assessment ecosystem, rather than a single common test, will give states the flexibility to take advantage of innovations in digital learning over time while maintaining interoperability and comparability.

Signatories to this anti-national testing statement include Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Gisele Huff, Terry  Moe, Tom Vander Ark, Bob Wise, and Julie. E. Young in addition to dozens of others.

I’m not sure why backers of digital learning have taken so long to recognize the threat posed by the nationalization movement.  And I really can’t understand why some of them have been ardent supporters of national standards.  The adoption of national standards only has the possibility of having an effect if it is tightly connected to national testing and curriculum.

The “tight-loose” idea that we can nationally impose standards but allow a wide range of assessments, curricula, and teaching methods is just an empty slogan used to conceal the inevitability of nationalizing all of these aspects of the education system if the standards are to mean anything.  If we don’t have a common way of assessing, how can we be sure that everyone is adhering to the national standards?  And if the national standards are more than vague generalities, they inevitably drive  what is in the curriculum and how it must be taught.  You can have a little bit of nationalization about as much as you can be a little bit pregnant.

Despite the intellectual incoherence of some of these digital learning backers of national standards but opponents of national testing, it is nice to see the nationalization train starting to go off the tracks.  As the train moves further along and the full implications of nationalizing key aspects of the education system become more obvious to everyone, more and more people will jump that train.  Without significant coercion it will be very hard to keep everyone on board until they reach the station where standards, assessments, and curriculum are all centrally imposed.

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.

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?