One Wednesday or Thursday last week, one of my colleagues on Twitter indicated that he was waiting for my comments on this item:
SRI International Releases Report for U.S. Department of Education on Costs and Benefits of Online Learning Programs
MENLO PARK, Calif., March 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — A new SRI International report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education provides guidance to educational leaders as they work to implement successful, cost-effective online learning programs for secondary schools.
The report, Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity, summarizes past research on the cost and outcomes associated with online learning programs in higher education and offers strategies for implementing such programs effectively in K-12 settings.
Educational policymakers and administrators across the country face shrinking budgets and increasing pressure to improve student performance. Many are looking at how online learning programs can benefit their students.
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However, before I got the chance to craft a response Tony Bates beat me to the punch and said almost everything I wanted to say.
A report on online learning and educational productivity: disappointed!!!!
Bakia, M., Shear, L. Toyama, Y. and Lasseter, A. (2012) Understanding the implications of online learning for educational productivity Washington DC: Department of Education Office of Educational Technology
This report was done for the US Department of Education by SRI International, a non-profit research and development organization. The report’s focus is on secondary schools in the USA.
This is the most important finding:
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I will disagree with Tony on one point. My own work in this field has lead me to believe that based on the evidence that it out there is costs less to education a K-12 student online than it does in the face-to-face environment. This is even more so when you get these national and international, for-profit, corporate providers that incur few of the start-up costs because they are using a curriculu, LMS, SIS, etc. that has already been developed.
I also disagree that what is needed is “a more qualitative case-study approach that looks at the specific pros and cons of online learning in specific cases, then draw some general conclusions from this about the relationship between costs and results.” I agree with the first part of the statement (i.e., what is needed is “a more qualitative case-study approach that looks at the specific pros and cons of online learning in specific cases”). I disagree with the portion that reads, “draw some general conclusions from this about the relationship between costs and results.” We don’t need to do a cost benefit analysis. This isn’t a widget that we are trying to improve margins on, it is public education we are talking about!
The first thing we need – and what the public should demand as their God given right when it comes to public education – is to ensure that all students have the opportunity to be successful. For some students that will mean the classroom environment, for other students it will mean the online environment, and for more students it will mean some combination of the two. If we can figure out when, with whom, and under what conditions online learning will yield appropriate results then it should be deployed for those students if they are unable to have success in the traditional classroom.
The second thing we need is to remove the ability of for-profit corporation from directly running schools. As long as we let the McDonald’s and Walmarts of the world be the ones responsible for running schools the decisions that will be made will be made based on a business model and not an education model. What is best for the bottom line, as opposed to what is best for students. By removing the direct control that corporations now have over K-12 education in many jurisdictions and moving away from the undying belief that free market principles are the answer to even public policy problem, when schools find efficiencies in the system they are able to re-invest it into programs that will allow other groups of students to succeed – as opposed to using it to line the pockets of corporate executives and shareholders.
Basically, we need to remove bottomline thinking – like productivity – from the dominant position it has gained in the education conversation!