Will Technology Grow or Shrink the Achievement Gap?

In his commentary on my book, Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, Jay Mathews doubts that he will find any time soon “something of the new electronic era that significantly increases achievement in reading and writing for all kids.”

Phrased that way, he is undoubtedly correct, as nothing makes things better things for every single person, regardless of the stated aspirations of No Child Left Behind.

And I agree with Mathews that the first adopters of virtual learning will be those resourceful students bored in today’s high schools, who will be eager to access the very best educational material available on line—just as soon as states provide funding to those who create good courses that can be applied to high school transcripts, regardless of whether they are taken in a district-run high school or in an on-line environment.

That is the secret to the success of Florida Virtual School, a state-run high school that offers alternatives to local district courses that any student in the Florida may take.  If other states create that same alternative—or, even better, high quality courses offered by any provider that students have the option to take–the most resourceful students will select out top-notch courses that make them college ready.

Indeed, colleges will have incentives to create those courses, so they know their applicants are, indeed, college-ready.

Will they create greater inequalities in educational opportunity?  Perhaps, in the first instance.  All progress in the first instance creates greater inequality. The first to drive cars were the rich, and they were able to get to the next town more quickly as a result. But, eventually, a lot of folks got the hang of driving an automobile.

President Kennedy had it right—rising tides lift all the boats.  It can happen with electronic learning, too.

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