Let’s forget for a minute that I’m fairly confident that I have never met Jonathan Becker face-to-face, and just imagine that its kind of a cool world we live in when someone you’ve never met knows what your area of research is, and then invites you to join a conversation on that topic. Anyway, when I went exploring to see who @derekbuff was and what got the conversation started I saw this list of tweets.
The article that he is referring to is one that Clay Christensen and Michael Horn authored entitled “Education As We Know It Is Finished.” Without really reading the article, just the title and the tweets that @derekbuff, I responded with links to various entries on my blog related to cyber charter school funding.
The actual entries were Cyber Charter Schools, Funding And Legislative Issues In Ohio For K-12 Online Learning, and Funding Virtual Schools – Part One.
And this got us on a discussion of vendors and for-profits and making money, etc., etc.. However, now that I have had more of a chance to read the article I think that the title is very misleading, and that Clay and Michael are getting a bad rap in this instance.
In the article, the Innosight Institute fellows aren’t arguing for the mass migration of public education into an online model (which many of the proponents of online learning and school choice would be in favour of). In this instance Christensen and Horn are making a very logical case. Essentially they are arguing that brick-and-mortar schools should seriously consider online learning when it is the more cost effective option. For example, if a brick-and-mortar school in rural Michigan has five students who are interested in taking an Advanced Placement US Government and Politics course, the principal of that school could allocate a teacher to teach that course to those five students. Let’s assume that teacher makes $56,973 (which was the state average in 2005), and the school is on a block schedule so this is one of the four slots that teacher has. Over a two semester period with four slots each semester, this teacher is valued at $7,121.63 per slot. For these five AP US Government and Politics students, that’s $1,424.33 per student. The principal could also enroll those five students in the same course offered through the Michigan Virtual School (MVS) at a cost of $350.00 per student or $1,750.00 for all five students. That’s quite a savings for that principal. Note I was going to use AP European History for this example, only to find out that MVS does not offer that course.
Beyond the fictional examples, all you need to do is to examine the budgets that the St. Clair RESA Virtual Learning Academy have posted on their website. According to the 2009–10 Amended Budget and 2010-11 Budget it is more cost effective for this public education institution to provide an education to the group of at-risk students they serve in an online environment (with some physical/face-to-face requirements) than it would be to provide that education in the traditional brick-and-mortar environment.
Normally, I am the first person to disagree with Michael and his colleagues on their application of a free market theory of business on a public sector like education. But in this instance, I have to agree with them and say that there are instances when it is more cost effective (e.g., “non-core courses–advanced placement, foreign language, economics and so forth” as they indicate in the article). Clay and Michael aren’t arguing that there is an impending doom of traditional, brick-and-mortar, public education – at least not in this article anyway! They are simply stating that for low demand courses, it may be cheaper for schools to enroll their students in virtual school courses than to allocate a physical teacher to teach the course face-to-face (plus you get the added benefit of providing the students with a wider range of curricular opportunities).