I’ve been cleaning out my Bloglines, as I get ready to post a few series and other regular monthly features, and I came across this series of blog entries over at The Quick and the Ed that were kind of like a debate/discussion or series that Bill Tucker posted with one of his colleagues.
- Better Quality Indicators for Virtual Learning
- Virtual Cream Skimming
- Continuing the Search for Better Quality Indicators
Essentially, the first entry saw Bill arguing in favour of using K-12 online learning in a greater capacity to provide parents with school choice and allowing more players into that online learning space. To ensure the quality of those new (and I suppose the existing) online learning players, we could consider some kind of accreditation process – similar to what is found in higher education. However, Bill is more in favour of quality being measured as scores on bubble tests (that’s not how he puts it, but the notion of “pay them on a performance basis” and “You only get public funds when a student succeeds and passes the course.” does mean how students score on standardized testing). Bill is even generous enough to allow for bonuses in his pay for test scores system, to allow for more money if the students are “disadvantaged and special needs students”. Essentially, it becomes a market driven system – the same kind of system you see in the United States with health care (and we see how well that works for people on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder).
His colleague, Rob Manwaring, responded to Bill in the second entry by suggesting that the strict pay for performance model – particularly if it is based solely on test scores or course completion – is a flawed system that is ripe with the possibility of abuse.
To his credit, in the third and final entry linked above, Bill does argue with Rob that a strict pay for performance model does have the potential for abuse. He also acknowledges that they both see issues with the traditional post-secondary accreditation system (so that isn’t a preferred option to ensure quality), and then kind of leaves it at that… A discussion between two individuals – one of whom I know has a strong understanding of the issues related to virtual schooling (sorry Rob, but I don’t know your background) – about how we ensure quality in K-12 online learning that ends where it started.
I’ll be honest and say that – like these two – I don’t have an easy answer. I’m not as down on accreditation as these two individuals seem to be (although we’re still in the middle of a process of trying to become re-certified to offer the State of Michigan educational technology endorsement in my program, so I may have a different opinion by the time we are finished). One of the things that I would suggest is that the metrics valued by the previous administration (and really the current administration as well, cause they have really shown no concrete signals that they disagree with the focus on standardized testing in English, mathematics and science) are not those valued by or useful in society. The ability to memorize information and then recall that information in order to shade in the correct bubble on a piece of paper is not going to be useful to most students ten or twenty years from now (unless they are a census taker or make a living completing mail-in surveys). Personally, I’d argue that one of the reasons that America has continued to slide in most measures of educational competitiveness is because we value (i.e., teach and test) the wrong kind of information processing.
I’ll be the first to admit that designing assessment that adequately measures other forms of information processing (e.g., critical thinking, problems solving, abstract conceptualization, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, etc.) isn’t the easiest thing to do. But before we can begin to talk about how do we ensure quality, I think the conversation needs to begin with what kind of learning do we value and what constitutes a quality learning experience. Once we have answers to those questions – and those questions aren’t limited to the K-12 online learning environment – then we can begin to talk about the appropriate metrics and whether or not there is a way to tie funding to those metrics (which in my gut I still think it not the right path to be on, but it does seem to be the path we are heading).