My Apologies to Andy Rotherham, Even Though He Is a Poor Prognosticator
By Paul E. Peterson 04/27/2010
The other day, on this blog, I responded to those who had said I, like Diane Ravitch, had changed my mind in the course of writing Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning. According to this line of thinking, I supposedly had given up on vouchers and charter schools and was urging the adoption of online learning instead. Debbie Viadero reported along these lines in her Education Week article, and when I stoutly defended my ongoing support for school choice in its voucher and charter forms, I indicated that blogger Andy Rotherham also claimed I had changed my mind. That is what I had recalled from his comments on my book at an event at the Brookings Institution. But when Rotherham denied saying any such thing, I concluded, upon reflection, that my memory had served me wrong. Andy had not dwelled on whether or not I had changed my mind but simply had contended that school districts and teacher unions would opposed the virtual education and that virtual education would never see the light of day. School systems do not operate within a marketplace, he said, so they need not adopt the latest technologies.
So my apologies to Andy for attributing a criticism to him that he did not make. Still, his prediction about the future of virtual education is in error. Admittedly, online learning is spreading more rapidly within the higher educational system than it is among high schools, and that could be due in part to weaker union power and greater competitiveness among colleges and universities. But even Terry Moe and John Chubb who in their book, Liberating Learning, are as insistent on teacher union power as Andy, do not think unions are such powerful Luddites they can block new technologies forever.
Meanwhile, the fiscal crises in education that I predicted in Saving Schools are already rocking school districts from New Jersey to the Capistrano school district in California. If nothing else, economic realities are going to convince state legislators that they need to consider alternatives that require fewer adults on the scene.