Home > Uncategorized > NEPC: Virtual and Blended Schools Need a Re-Boot. Will Legislators Heed This? Probably Not…

NEPC: Virtual and Blended Schools Need a Re-Boot. Will Legislators Heed This? Probably Not…

April 23, 2016

The National Policy Center just released a report that was comprehensive in its analysis, careful to note the limitations of the data gathered, and thoughtfully measured in its language. But the data it DID gather and analyze led to an alarming conclusion:

…even though the outcome measures available are not as rigorous as desired, and even though the data reported by virtual schools and blended schools are not as complete as they should be, the findings still reveal that across all school performance measures, most virtual schools and blended schools are lacking. There is not a single positive sign from the empirical evidence presented here. Given this picture, continued expansion seems unwise. More research is needed; and to enable such research, state oversight agencies need to require more, and better refined, data.

Because the NEPC researchers are careful to avoid reaching conclusions when their data is incomplete, they did not underscore the fact that state legislatures are the ones who need to be held accountable for the unrestrained growth of virtual and blended education despite evidence that they underperform traditional public schools. These legislators are driven by four forces, three of which are “story lines”: faith in market economics; compelling lobbying by for-profit virtual school operators; their continued belief that schools are factories and students are widgets that need to be filled with knowledge; and the low price tag of these schools, which enables them to sidestep the tax increases.

Many legislators believe that an unregulated marketplace will result in a fair and just opportunity for everyone to succeed. They believe this even though the marketplace denies families in impoverished neighborhoods and communities the same array of choices for groceries, apparel, and dining as families in affluent neighborhoods and communities because they also believe that everyone had a choice to work hard and earn money and those who worked hardest gained the right to choose to live in an economically segregated environment. I’m lucky: I made the “choice” to be born to two college educated parents. Some of my age cohorts made a “bad choice” at the time and their grandchildren are, in all probability, still making “bad choices”.  Legislators need to see that children don’t have a choice where they are born but should have an opportunity to have access to the same kid of education as everyone else their age.

Lobbyists for the for-profit virtual and blended schools have done an admirable job of persuading legislators that freed of government regulations they are more successful than traditional public schools. As the NEPC report notes, they can do this in part because there are no clear benchmarks for measuring the success of virtual and blended schools which makes it possible for them to cherry-pick data points that make them look better than they really are. The story line they sell is that every child they educate is given the chance to succeed… and the legislators buy this agreeable fantasy despite all evidence to the contrary because it is so heartwarming (and inexpensive, as noted below).

The virtual and blended schools as they are conceived today also reinforce the current mental model of education, the factory school. A child (raw material) enters at one end and 12-14 years later a “college and career ready” adult emerges. What happens in between is a function of efficient engineering… and what could be more efficient than the replacement of humans with robots— or in tis case the replacement of a teacher standing in front of 35 students with a teacher orchestrating 200+ students sitting at computer terminals.

Finally, and most compellingly, virtual and blended schools as they are constructed now are inexpensive compared to “government” schools that require face-to-face interaction with children…. and in a factory, if the same level of product can be delivered less money productivity increases and the sales price can be lowered. Oh… and in the marketplace if a cheaper, lower quality product can be delivered at a lower price, sometimes that product will get a larger market share and consumers will adjust their expectations accordingly. That’s the model Ray Kroc adopted and the virtual and blended McSchool’s are acceptable to legislators so long as taxes don’t have to increase and power is taken away from “the government”.

NEPC offers a series of thoughtful recommendations at the conclusion of their paper… but the researchers, like me, operate on the assumption that evidence is an important consideration, that equity is important element of democracy, and human interaction is a crucial element of teaching and learning. Sometimes I fear that those assumptions are no longer valid.


%d bloggers like this: