The new classroom: online education and charter schools


There are about 5,000 public charter schools in this country. One-third are excellent and consistently outperform traditional public schools that are demographically equivalent. One-third are adequate and perform as well as the equivalent public school but give parents a choice to which they are entitled. One-third should be closed.
It took 20 years to get these schools up and running, and if it takes another 20 years to double their number, we will have 10,000 charter schools in 2030.  Remember that, of those, we can more or less expect the same proportion of good, bad, and indifferent.  There are 99,000 schools in the United States.
Vouchers for underserved students whose public schools are nothing short of endless occurrences of child abuse are another solution over which major political and cultural wars have been and continue to be fought.  A win for voucher proponents occurred in 2002 with Zelman v. Simmons-Harris when the Supreme Court ruled vouchers were not unconstitutional. A further victory was secured in 2003 with the passing of the foundational legislature that created the Washington, D.C. voucher program.  So where are we now? Although 200,000 children receive vouchers to attend the school of their choice, there are 50 million school children in the United States.
Of late, much emphasis has been placed on the effectiveness and retention of teachers.  Never mind that retention of anyone in any profession is a non-starter these days. In addition, people no longer stay in one job for their entire lives. Moreover, for-profit companies are hard put to find new employees whose skills they don’t need to remediate. Also, schools are churning out inadequately prepared graduates.  Look at the track record of the very successful New Teacher Project that acts as the human resource department of school districts who use their services.  In the last six years, the New Teachers Project has placed 36,000 teachers.  There are 3.3 million teachers in the United States.
These numbers are staggering.  We need to transform our education system not reform it.  We need to revolutionize the way our children learn; we can do that by harnessing the technology we already have at our disposal.  In his book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Clayton Christensen argues that only disruptive innovation can change an industry. Education is a $600 billion industry.  In his view, sustaining innovations, the kind that cannot fundamentally change an industry because they operate within the same dominant culture that pervades it, have stalled education reform.
Making technology an integral part of the curriculum and redefining the role of the teacher would lead to disruptive innovations. These innovations would first benefit those who are non-consumers like high school dropouts and takers of AP courses. As products improve and their adoption increases, all children in this country will be able to receive personalized learning plans enabling them to reach their full potential.
By some estimates, roughly 2 million K-12 students are engaged in some form of online learning in the United States today and that number is growing about 30% a year.  Internationally, the numbers are even more impressive as countries are using online learning to extend a quality education to everyone regardless of where they live.  For instance, in Turkey where online education did not exist three years ago, 15 million children are now availing themselves of online learning.
If we want to compete globally in the 21st century, online education and other innovative strategies are the solutions we need to pursue.



Gisèle Huff, Ph.D., is Chairman of the Innosight Institute