Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Politics That Block Reform

The internet is a great source of education for drop-outs, others who are not challenged by public schools and homeschoolers. In the article below that appears in the Wall Street Journal, the author suggests that technology will liberate people from the grips of the teachers unions. I truly hope the author is correct, but under the current administration I do not know if it will be possible. I think the grip of the teacher unions will get tighter and stronger unless America wakes-up. We have a President and Congress plowing head strong into liberal fascism and socialism. Let us hope the author in the article below is correct and I am wrong. Wake-up America!

Even here in little old Croydon we have school board members pandering to the teachers rather than representing the voters and taxpayers that elected them to their seats.

The following piece appears at Wall Street

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

The Cyber Way to Knowledge
Since labor costs keep rising, school districts will naturally turn to technology as a way to get more for less.


Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment ranks the education levels of 15-year-olds around the world. The most recent test, in 2006, brought back results from 30 industrialized nations that were hardly inspiring for U.S. teachers and parents. American students' science scores lagged behind those of their counterparts in 20 countries, including Finland, Japan, Germany and Belgium. The numbers from the math test were even worse: The U.S. came in 25th. The "rising tide of mediocrity" in American schools -- famously so described in 1983 by a government report called "A Nation at Risk" -- would now appear to be about chin-high.

In response to "A Nation at Risk," Terry Moe and John Chubb in 1990 published "Politics, Markets and America's Schools," which identified special-interest groups -- mainly teachers unions -- as the culprits in preventing the reforms urged in the report. Now Messrs. Moe and Chubb have returned to the subject with "Liberating Learning," a more optimistic sequel. The authors believe there exists a magic bullet that is capable of shattering the unions' political power and, at last, bringing the sort of reform and excellence to U.S. K-12 education that might make U.S. students competitive with Finnish teenagers. The ammunition? Technology.

Mr. Moe is an academic researcher at the Hoover Institution; Mr. Chubb, an executive with Chris Whittle's for-profit education venture, Edison Learning. They think that technology -- particularly online education -- holds two potentially dramatic benefits. One is simply a general improvement in education as students from "anywhere -- poor inner cities, remote rural areas, even at home" gain access to high-caliber instruction. More important, the authors say, is technology's ability to destroy the political barriers that prevent education reform.

Despite much public rhetoric about the urgent need to improve American education, despite the investment of billions of dollars in schools, little progress has been achieved. Why? Messrs. Moe and Chubb blame the "politics of blocking" -- the thwarting of such simple reforms as paying teachers for performance. Many states prohibit even gathering data that link individual teachers to the test scores of their students.

Liberating Learning
By Terry M. Moe and John E. Chubb
(Jossey-Bass, 214 pages, $24.95)

Technology, the authors say, may enable the circumvention of political blocking. They make their point forcefully, with copious and surprising examples. In 1995, for instance, Midland, Pa., a declining steel town on the Ohio border, launched the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. Today the online school serves 8,000 students throughout the state. And the classes aren't just digital correspondence courses -- there are textbooks and live educators, including "synchronous teachers," who work with students through instant messaging, voice and interactive whiteboards while the kids are engaged with their lessons online. Advisers are required to communicate with students' families at least once a week by email and once every two weeks by phone.

As for results, even though the school's demographics are average or even below average, Cyber was rated as having made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in No Child Left Behind, hitting all 21 educational targets. By contrast, barely half of Pennsylvania's bricks-and-mortar schools received the AYP rating. On SAT tests, Cyber students scored 97 points higher than the state average.

Messrs. Moe and Chubb report that there are 190 cyber charter schools today in 25 states, up from 57 such schools in 13 states in 2002-03. Many of the new cyber charters are managed by two for-profit companies, K12 and Connections Academy. Meanwhile, some students in traditional schools are taking individual courses online, and companies such as Educomp, based in India, are tutoring U.S. students after school hours.

Teachers unions, of course, are appalled. They know that "the new computer-based approaches to learning simply require far fewer teachers per student -- perhaps half as many, and possibly fewer than that," Messrs. Moe and Chubb write. Online charter schools employ two or three teachers per 100 students; the average public school employs 6.8 per 100. Technology also disperses teachers geographically (making them elusive for union organizers); lets in private-sector players who aren't members of the guild; and enables outsourcing to foreign countries. For unions, technology is poison.

Despite encouraging signs for online education, "blocking" tactics have so far largely succeeded. Technology's inroads into K-12 education are "small and difficult to notice," the authors acknowledge. But they predict that an onslaught is coming. One reason: the pile of data being collected because of the accountability-in-education movement, codified by No Child Left Behind. "Better information is destined to change politics," Messrs. Moe and Chubb say. "Above all, it puts a spotlight on schools and districts that are performing poorly."

The authors also believe that, by allowing the door to be cracked open with online schools, the unions won't be able to shut it. With the encouragement of students' parents, millions of children will rush in, overcoming current union-imposed enrollment caps. Since labor costs keep rising, school districts, hard-pressed for funds, will naturally turn to technology as a way to get more for less. Mostly, though, Messrs. Moe and Chubb are determinists who believe that the political problem will be solved because it has to be. They make a good case, but hardly an air-tight one. "Technology," they write, "is transforming nearly every aspect of American social life, and will keep transforming it in the decades ahead."

True, but what drives the adoption of technology is the appeal of improved productivity. Since politicians ultimately control schools, the question is whether the promise of improved student productivity can overcome another powerful incentive for office-holders: the election-time productivity of unions that help politicians get into office and stay there.

Mr. Glassman, former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, is president of World Growth, a nonprofit economic development organization.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A15

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