City Journal Summer 2014

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Larry Sand
Disrupting Class « Back to Story

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Sand's article is profound. Technology is driving all aspects of the global economy, including all levels of education in the US. Teachers Unions that attempt to resist this trend will surely fail. Productivity not politics will now prevail, despite the desperate efforts of Teachers Unions.
Great article. The destruction of the teachers unions can't come soon enough. Nothing but a bunch of selfish leeches who stonewall any attempt to improve the terrible state of education for which they themselves are directly responsible.
Dear Larry. You Don’t Get It.

I always feel proud when Red and Blue join together to support a common cause. Such is the case with online learning as both sides of the political spectrum understand the great benefits that online learning can provide to both teaching and learning. Consider Democratic Governor Bob Wise’s and Republican Governor Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Now project. In Congress, Republican Kristi Noem, a conservative House member, and Democrat Jared Polis, a liberal, created the eLearning caucus to “promote research on successes and failures in eLearning.”

But, I’m not surprised when a partisan from one side imprints their own political agenda on the effort. Such is the case, I suspect, with Larry Sand’s article, Disrupting Class, on the City Journal. In it, he claims that “California’s teacher unions will eventually go the way the way of the Betamax.” Larry cites Hoover Institution claims that unions will be marginalized and that they can’t stop the online learning revolution from happening.

Really Larry? Is that the best you can do? Your proof of your claims is a recent development at the University of California where its teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, fought against online education in order to “protect our members from potential adverse effects of UC’s rapid adoption of online instruction. Larry states that the union will “fiercely protect their turf at any cost.”

Really Larry.

You compare teaching to the horseshoe business, which became significantly less relevant with the advent of the automobile. Yet, Clayton Christensen, in his book “Disrupting Class”, recognizes that K-12 education has a long history of changing itself and rebuilding the education airplane while its flying. No one claims that brick-and-mortar schools will go the way of the blacksmith or that teachers are the next farrier.

In fact, K12’s primary teachers’ union, the NEA, is ready to prepare its members for the online future. In their publication, “Guide to Teaching Online Courses”, they outline their support for eLearning and repeat much of what other online supporters have stated is necessary for the revolution to succeed. The NEA recognizes that “every student deserves a highly qualified teacher online.” They support online learning as a way to expand teachers’ professional roles without leaving the classroom. One example they provide reinforces how online learning can support students who don’t have access to a full range of courses, namely that a German teacher could offer an AP German course, even if no students in her school take German.

Does that sound like a union that is trying to stop online learning, Larry?

The NEA paper lays out their core beliefs, which don’t vary from what other online supporters have proposed. The NEA believes that online courses should be instructor-led. (No one has advocated for teacher-less classrooms, Larry.) They believe that online courses should be student-centered, that learning should be collaborative, and that activities and assessments should account for different learning styles. These are all components promoted by a variety of eLearning proponents.

This might make you angry, Larry, but the NEA believes that “schools should set high standards for their online teachers” and that states should recognize each other’s credentials so a credentialed teacher can teach in many states. They also advocate that since online teaching is different from face-to-face, teachers should be provided professional development regarding effective pedagogy and delivery, appropriate and timely feedback, online discussion facilitation, and learning management system navigation. Their publication includes 19 skills that teachers should acquire before they teach online. Skills repeated by other organizations as essential.

Sound like the union is in denial, Larry?

You cite Rocketship Education’s charter network, which uses blended learning to dramatically increase student proficiency. Yet, Rocketship pays their teachers more than surrounding districts and they’ve made regular, ongoing professional development a core component. As Heather Staker believes in her report, “The Rise of K12 Blended Learning”, 90% of all online learning will take place in brick-and-mortar schools, which utilize real teachers. And those teachers will require initial and ongoing professional development to best utilize this new medium.

So why does the NEA support online learning? Well, as many of us have dreamed of for the past 20 years, online learning enables teachers to move from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”, just as advocated by Sal Kahn with his excellent set of lectures. It’s about growing our profession from lecturers to one that can meet every student’s needs.

You say, Larry, that “a superior education for far less money will eventually overwhelm and decimate the unions, and for some, that will come not a moment too soon.” No one claims that blended learning will cost “far less money.” In fact, some day that online learning can initially cost more.

Yes, K12 education excels in rebuilding its airplane while it’s flying. My only problem is when the qualifications of the next version’s designer is that he took a flight once. Save the partisan efforts for others. I’m proud that Red and Blue fight for the same side in the online learning revolution and I look forward to eLearning’s transformation of both teaching and learning.
I read "Special Interest" and remain unconvinced that technology will break the power of teachers unions to control and stifle taxpayer-funded education.

Where technology can make a huge difference is in higher ed. Here the entrenched powers are different, and the problem is perhaps more one of cost than of quality.

But college students are older, nontraditional students are a growing piece of the pie. Surely college students could better handle the discipline required for distance learning than K-12 students?

Yet there's been very little movement here and what little has occurred has mostly been that which does not threaten anyone within the higher ed. establishment.

If technology isn't being used to improve teaching productivity in higher ed., why should anyone expect much change in K-12 ed.?
"No employee shall be displaced because of distance learning or other educational technology."

These guys are whistling past the graveyard.
Don't just focus on the Unions. The whole district system needs to be called into question.

As for digital learning...

I just spent a week in Italy, and was bowled over by how effective Google Translate is as a FREE piece of software.

First, it makes rudimentary knowledge of language obsolete, as we will all soon have access to quick translation for everyday speech needs. (e.g. Where is the bus to the airport?)

Better yet, an engaged parent who wants to, could use Google Translate to teach their toddler any language they want while learning it themselves, particularly with a short reference guide.

Go to your Apple or Droid phone and look up translation apps. Couple together a speaking app with a grammar app, and you are on your way.

The future for teachers is to abandon their factory/union model, and embrace the world of smaller classes, independent of districts or even brick and mortar, with a boutique of services offered directly to the customer.

The American model of teaching language in high school is the height of idiocy. If 5 language teachers (Spanish, German, French Italian, Chinese) opened up a language center in a strip mall, and advertised fluency by age 7 if they start a 2-3 years old, parents would beat a path to their door.

This can't happen in our disgusting "district system." We need a system where the money follows the child. It's just that simple.

We need to ban public unions.

Not just of the sake of the kids but the teachers too.