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Wall St. Journal, Larry Sand Shine Light on Digital Learning’s Growth & Potential

Last week I told you that the first-ever Digital Learning Day is less than three months away. Someone out there must have been paying attention! Today the Wall Street Journal has a big — no, make that a huge! — article by Stephanie Banchero and Stephanie Simon about online education cleverly called “My Teacher Is An App”:

In a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school, states and districts nationwide are launching online public schools that let students from kindergarten to 12th grade take some—or all—of their classes from their bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens. Other states and districts are bringing students into brick-and-mortar schools for instruction that is largely computer-based and self-directed.

The first sentence talks about full-time online education, something that Colorado has had going for more than a decade. (You didn’t hear it from me, but a helpful new report on this topic from my Education Policy Center friends may be coming soon.) About 2 percent of our state’s K-12 public school students are enrolled in a full-time online program, and the number has been rising significantly in recent years.

Recently, there has been some negative news about online schools that should generate some concern — concern about outdated policies that are stifling effective innovation in the digital realm, as well as concern that certain politicians will overreact and attack the online education option that works for many families. The case has been made eloquently in Pam Benigno’s Denver Post op-ed and in an informative podcast with the Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn.

The second part of the paragraph I cited concerns what is commonly known as “blended learning” — which you can read about (again) from the Innosight Institute, or watch a feature about one of its most stellar examples: Arizona’s Carpe Diem charter school. There is significant potential for growth in this area in Colorado, provided the policies are in place and innovative entrepreneurship is given room to serve students.

Elsewhere, the Journal article mentions the high-performing hybrid model of Rocketship Education, which I first told you about more than a year and a half ago. Talk about a little edublogger ahead of his time! Speaking of which, Larry Sand also brings up Rocketship in his new City Journal column on “Disrupting Class.”

Sand writes about how online and blended learning, which continue to grow quickly, have tremendous potential to dramatically change the education system as we know it. The Journal article quotes the president of the National Education Association as saying “his organization opposes full-time online schools but supports integrating virtual lessons into classrooms.” Sand dissects the opposition in his piece, noting it’s not just the full-time variety of cyberschooling that has unions :

The blended-learning approach has attracted a great deal of interest from foundations and think tanks. Its appeal is obvious: students would potentially achieve more with the help of technology and fewer classroom teachers. No wonder the unions are terrified.

Union leaders use scary rhetoric, saying digital learning replaces teachers with technology to make parents think that any program outside their sphere of control will just be a computer babysitting kids. What we’re really talking about, though, is the power of technology to expand the reach of an effective teacher, to make for more productive uses of time and resources. That very well could mean fewer instructors on the big scale. But we have to remember: education is first and foremost about ensuring students learn and grow, not about maintaining and protecting jobs.