Virtual School Meanderings

November 29, 2011

Politics Of K-12 Online Learning?

A while ago (back around the middle of July actually), I saw the following come through my Twitter stream:

So, I responded:

It was a few days after I had seen the stuff that prompted me to write “Worst Online Learning Law in America? Really??” and a few days after I had discovered Another New Virtual Schooling Blogger – Digital Education and the entry on Party Lines in Virtual Schooling? that they had written.

Now this past week the conversation about politics or partisanship and K-12 online learning seems to have exploded.

Now I’m here to tell you today that not only is K-12 online learning a political/partisan issues, but anyone who claims otherwise is either naive or intentionally trying to mislead you.

One of the problems with this discussion – and one of the claims made by those arguing that this isn’t a political issue – is the whole bipartisan nature of K-12 online learning (e.g., Bipartisan education plans: former Govs. Bush and Wise announce Digital Learning Day).  The problem is that right now in the United States both parties are similar in their ideological position.  Essentially there is a center-right party (i.e., the Democrats) and a far right party (i.e., the Republicans).  So it is much easier to be bipartisan where there are few ideological differences between the two parties.  However, that doesn’t mean that the educational reform movement and the push towards K-12 online learning aren’t political or partisan.  It just means that folks on the right both agree that we should allow corporations to begin to take direct control over schools because the free market knows best.

This is an ideological position…  One where unions are seen as the problem (and by extension their membership, the dreaded teacher).  One where people with no education training – but plenty of experience with reaping profits from the back of their workers – are the ones driving the agenda.  One where a common curriculum is necessary because the demands of a perceived global economy trump the understanding that the needs of students in rural Iowa can’t be different than the needs of students in inner city Los Angeles.  One where we must test all students in a standardized way because teachers can’t be trusted to cover the content.  One where those tests must be used to measure a teachers effectiveness because nothing else actually affects student performance beyond the teacher’s actions.

These ideological positions mirror the observations of Marion Brady in the entry De-legitimizing public education that was posted on the Washington Post‘s “The Answer Sheet” blog.  It also mirrors the ideological views of what Michael Apples describes as the neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda to dismantle public education.  Tomorrow I will dive into the ideology of the K-12 online learning movement (and note this is not descriptive of the entire movement, but does describe most of its most focal proponents).

For today, the main takeaway should be that K-12 online learning is a political or partisan or ideology issue.  And those that claim it isn’t are either naive or intentionally trying to mislead you (and I’d submit the latter of that group are doing so because they don’t want you to see their true agenda).  I also suspect that many of the proponents listed above will be quick to dismiss this entry in the coming days (and I’m sure I will be referred to as uninformed, naive, fear mongering, a conspiracy theorist, and many other things while they are dismissing me).

See also the entry entitled Another Example Of The Politics Of Virtual Schooling and K-12 Online Learning And Educational Reform for more of my writing on this topic or check out the tag for this blog.

18 Comments »

  1. While I agree with you Michael, I wonder if the political nature, or the commercial nature is a bigger problem. (Okay, maybe you didn’t say that the political issue is a problem, but it is in my opinion.)

    I’m concerned though, with the corporate supporters who are seemingly advocates for quality online education, but are only in it to make money.

    Comment by Ray Rose — November 29, 2011 @ 9:46 am | Reply

    • Ray, not sure you could have set this up any better for me. Tomorrow’s entry will focus on what is neo-liberalism and neo-conservativism, and how that relates to what we see in the practice of K-12 online learning (i.e., standardization, corporate/free market influence, attacks on unions and other establishment entities, return to a focus on traditional curriculum and instructional practices). On Thursday I’ll deal with the tactics used by neo-liberals and neo-conservatives to push their agenda. Finally, next week (likely Monday or Tuesday) I’ll try and put my own beliefs out there in light of the realities that I’ve discussed today, tomorrow, and Thursday. Stay tuned…

      Comment by mkbnl — November 29, 2011 @ 10:52 am | Reply

  2. […] Virtual School Meanderings: Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? For today, the main takeaway should be that K-12 online learning is a political or partisan or ideology issue. And those that claim it isn’t are either naive or intentionally trying to mislead you (and I’d submit the latter of that group are doing so because they don’t want you to see their true agenda). […]

    Pingback by Virtual School Meanderings: Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? | E-Learning and Online Teaching | Scoop.it — November 29, 2011 @ 11:03 am | Reply

  3. Well written. Thanks for pointing out what is obvious to many of us, but is swept under the rug by too many.

    Comment by Brian Bridges (@bbridges51) — November 29, 2011 @ 11:17 am | Reply

    • Brian, thanks… Although I’m a little surprised to see you write this. In your blog entry that I link to above you write, “Such is the case with online learning as both sides of the political spectrum understand the great benefits that online learning can provide to both teaching and learning.”

      From where I sit, the left and right don’t necessarily understand the great benefits that online can provide to both teaching and learning. The right of center Democrats and the far right Republicans both believe in those benefits, but those of us on the left are still questioning the “potential” of K-12 online learning. And as a researcher, I have seen no hard evidence of any benefits, simply potential benefits that are continuously championed by those on the right.

      But that’s just from where I sit, which I’ll talk a bit more about next week and I think that will help folks some (particularly this little image that I’m working on).

      Comment by mkbnl — November 29, 2011 @ 11:29 am | Reply

      • OK, now you opened it up for me. I’m interested to hear more about your thoughts on what constitutes “hard evidence!” Seriously, no evidence of ANY benefits, none? Help me out here, Michael :)

        Comment by lisadawley — November 29, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

      • Lisa, sorry for the delay in responding, but I have been offline most of the day. Assuming you can get past the inherent problems outlined by Richard Clark when it comes to the media comparison studies that have been conducted to date comparing student performance in the K-12 online learning environment with those in the face-to-face classroom, there is still the problems associated with a misunderstanding of effect sizes and problems of skewed sampling. If you look at all of the comparative studies conducted into supplemental K-12 online learning they all suffer from a sampling bias in favour of the online cohorts – which shouldn’t surprise any of us when you read the kind of students the literature described as being enrolled in K-12 online learning.

        I’ll be the first to admit that I’m much more comfortable with qualitative research methods than quantitative, but from reading those that specialize in mata-analysis all agree that an innovation should reach an effect size of 0.4 or 0.6 or 0.8 before we consider investing substantial resources into widespread adoption of such innovation (e.g., Glass and Hattie). None of the meta-analysis that we have seen include K-12 studies have reached the 0.4 threshold. In fact, Cathy’s 2004 meta-analysis found a negative effect size (essentially indicating that being in the K-12 online environment harmed these students).

        To date, there has yet to be any real research into K-12 students engaged on full-time online learning that has passed through any independent, referred or peer-reviewed process. Yet the proponents pushing cyber charter schools would have us believe that there is substantial evidence indicating how effective it is, and how we are harming our children if we don’t provide this option. The same thing can be said of using K-12 online learning to address students with special needs or at-risk students. Lots of rhetoric out there about how effective it is, but nothing in the way of methodologically sound evidence.

        I’ve been speaking and writing – both on this blog and in my academic publications – about this lack of good research supporting K-12 online learning for the past three years. Can you point me to methodologically-sound studies that provide the evidence that you believe exists?

        Comment by mkbnl — November 29, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

  4. […] Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? A while ago (back around the middle of July actually), I saw the following come through my Twitter stream: So, I responded: It was a few days after I had seen the stuff that prompted me to wr… Source: virtualschooling.wordpress.com […]

    Pingback by Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? | Online and Blended Learning | Scoop.it — November 29, 2011 @ 11:42 am | Reply

  5. I think the other point here is that any time there is a new innovation, there are members of the status quo who are hesitant to embrace the innovation. Roger’s theory about diffusion of innovations well documents the phases an innovation goes through including the research challenges about an innovation.

    Regarding the politics – there is always politics in everything – from global warming to recycling to online learning. And then, it is always interesting to see how certain things become “bipartisan” over time. One example from the U.S. is how the concept of charter schools was initially only embraced by Republicans and Republican presidential candidates. However, with the last presidential election cycle (2008) both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates embraced the concept of charter schools.

    Comment by Rob Darrow, Ed.D. — November 29, 2011 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

    • Rob, first I believe this is a misapplication of Rogers. Rogers specifically describes how people react to the innovation or technology. With the supporters being those who can or do use the technology, and the resistance coming frim those who lack interest in using or ability to use the technology. That is not the case here. Those that are pushing K-12 online learning are those with a specific ideological value system (and the technology is just a side product), while those who oppose K-12 online learning aren’t opposing the technology or the innovation (they are opposing the application of that innovation). The best example if this is the lack of opposition to statewide supplemental programs or even district-based blended programs. But the second you roll online learning up with the neo-liberal/bro-conservative movements of school choice and applying free market principles to a public system, then you get opposition. Those opposing aren’t against online learning, they are against using online learning to privatize the public education system.

      Second, I think you’ve proved my point about the people who make the claim that K-12 online learning is not a political or partisan issue by pointing to its support by both Democrats and Republicans. Basically, you’ve missed the whole point of this entry. Getting the center-right Democrats who have largely been taken over by neo-liberals and the far right Republicans to agree on something is no big feat. All you’ve got is agreement from the right. If this is all far someone looks, it is only superficial (but makes for great campaign material in support of one’s cause). This myth that K-12 online learning isn’t political because it is bi-partisan is just that, a myth. Much of its support – and I’d argue most of the support it has gotten in the paste three to four years – is primarily about using online learning to impose an ideology vision on the public education system.

      I guess my final point would be a question to you. Why is there politics in everything? Why should there be politics in everything? Let’s use your global warming example as a case in point. Global warming is occurring, we have oddles of evidence to support that. There is a general consensus that we (i.e., humans) are the ones causing it, and at a rate that is greater than what should be occurring. Now there are a very small percentage of scientists that disagree with that position. What is inherently political or ideological about anything I’ve just written about global warming? At what point did we as a society decided it was acceptable to allow ideological values to cloud and misinform what is inherently a scientific question?

      Comment by mkbnl — November 29, 2011 @ 7:44 pm | Reply

  6. […] that do exist in virtual schools.  Michael Barbour, in his excellent Virtual Meandering’s post, Politics Of K-12 Online Learning?, framed it well. “…not only is K-12 online learning a political/partisan issues, but anyone who […]

    Pingback by Brian @ CLRN - Keeping Pace 2011, Part 2: Does Online Learning Work? — November 29, 2011 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

  7. […] Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? A while ago (back around the middle of July actually), I saw the following come through my Twitter stream: So, I responded: It was a few days after I had seen the stuff that prompted me to wr… (RT @robdarrow: RT @bbridges51: a MUST read. Source: virtualschooling.wordpress.com […]

    Pingback by Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? | eLearning Now | Scoop.it — November 29, 2011 @ 11:59 pm | Reply

  8. […] in my entry on the Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? I mentioned that the politics surrounding K-12 online learning wasn’t based on a specific […]

    Pingback by Ideology of K-12 Online Learning « Virtual School Meanderings — November 30, 2011 @ 8:55 am | Reply

  9. […] Tuesday, I described that the Politics Of K-12 Online Learning is a real thing and, unlike those that are trying to claim otherwise, is based on ideological […]

    Pingback by Tactics of The Neo-Liberals/Conservatives in K-12 Online Learning « Virtual School Meanderings — December 1, 2011 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

  10. […] Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? […]

    Pingback by Statistics For November 2011 « Virtual School Meanderings — December 3, 2011 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  11. […] Politics Of K-12 Online Learning? […]

    Pingback by iNACOL 10 Weeks of Activities for Better Blogging: Week 10 – Putting It All Together « Virtual School Meanderings — January 4, 2013 @ 8:16 am | Reply


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