Have My Views Changed?

Education Week reporter Debbie Viadero and blogger Andy Rotherham suggest that I, in Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, have (along with Diane Ravitch) abandoned my support for vouchers and charters.

Such claims make for good story lines, but the reality is otherwise.  I applaud all efforts to extend vouchers to more students, and I support the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase the number of charter schools within a state.

But the larger goal, advanced by both vouchers and charters, is to give parents and students meaningful educational choice, and new advances in technology have opened up another, perhaps even more effective, avenue for attaining that goal.  So I now propose that students be given the option of blending middle and high school courses taken at brick-and-mortar schools with courses being offered online.

In only one state, Florida, is that now possible.  There, high school students can take an algebra course online from Florida Virtual School (FLVS), a public state-run school, and their history course at a district-run public high school.  Either way, the course, if successfully completed, goes on the student’s high school transcript.   If the online course is completed, state funding for the course goes to FLVS; if taken at a district school, state funding is sent in that direction.

Thus, we now have in Florida a new form of choice that gives incentives to districts and FLVS to improve each and every course so that students will choose their option rather than the alternative.  Currently, 150,000 courses are being taken from FLVS, making it the largest school in Florida.

It is true that I now see how the changes in technology that have evolved over the past 15 years—broadband, high-speed computers, 3-dimensional presentations, adaptive learning systems, social networking, and so forth—have made possible a kind of choice not contemplated when vouchers and charters were first considered.  But I have yet to be persuaded—by Diane Ravitch or anyone else– that choice and competition are not the best way out of the current crisis in American education.

Still, virtual education is still in its infancy and a lot of diapers will need to be changed before it matures. I discuss many of the issues in the concluding chapter to Saving Schools.

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