By Kevin Meyer
Today's one of those days when a question poised by one Wall Street Journal article is answered by another. First we have the news that the Obama administration is asking for help from business to improve schools. Yes, really.
President Barack Obama will meet with some of the nation's top CEOs Monday to prod them to invest more heavily in education initiatives, especially those he champions, such as high-quality teaching and early childhood programs.
"We have laid out a comprehensive agenda that provides a clear road map where people need to go," she [Melody Barnes, the White House's Domestic Policy Chair] said. "But the federal government has a relatively small footprint in terms of resources and the business sector has immense resources and expertise, so we are trying to leverage that."
I'll let you digest that for a minute. The fringe "all business is evil" crowd must be quivering about hope and change. Some of them are speaking:
Jay P. Greene, who heads the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and has written about education philanthropy, said private money has little lasting influence because public education needs major overhauls, not tinkering at the edges. "It's like pouring buckets into the sea," Mr. Greene said. "The only way to make change with private money is to dig a new canal, build dams, reshape the public school system."
Ok.. Mr. Greene is right. A major revamp is necessary as the current focus on educating to the lowest common denominator isn't working. Enter the second article from today's WSJ on how the internet will reduce teachers union power.
Now my point isn't about the unions – don't get me started on that subject – but on how business-driven technology is reshaping eduction. Perhaps our best hope to fix this sinkhole.
Over the long haul, however, the unions are in grave trouble—for reasons that have little to do with the tribulations of this year.
The first is that they are losing their grip on the Democratic base. With many urban schools abysmally bad and staying that way, advocates for the disadvantaged are demanding real reform and aren't afraid to criticize unions for obstructing it.
Then there's a crucial dynamic outside of politics: the revolution in information technology. This tsunami is only now beginning to swell, and it will hit the American education system with full force over the next few decades. The teachers unions are trying to stop it, but it is much bigger than they are.
What is the IT revolution?
Online learning now allows schools to customize coursework to each child, with all kids working at their own pace, receiving instant remedial help, exploring a vast array of courses, and much more. The advantages are huge. Already some 39 states have set up virtual schools or learning initiatives that enroll students statewide, often providing advanced placement courses, remedial courses, and other offerings that students can't get in their local schools.
The national model is the Florida Virtual School, which offers a full academic curriculum, has more than 220,000 course enrollments per year, and is a beacon of innovation. Outside of government, tech entrepreneurs like K12 and Connections Academy are swarming all over the education sector. They are the innovative force behind the rise of virtual charters, which now operate in 27 states, enroll some 200,000 full-time students (who typically do their studying at home), and stand at the cutting edge of technology's advance.
So instead of dumbing down education in order to accommodate the lowest common denominator, mass customization can match curricula, learning velocity, and learning methods to each individual student.
Lean education? One piece flow of knowledge delivery? A kanban of matching knowledge delivery to knowledge consumption?
It's not all online – the model is morphing into a hybrid.
Most American parents want their kids to actually go to school—to a physical place. So the favored virtual schools of the future will be hybrids of traditional and online learning. There are already impressive examples.
At the high-performing Rocketship schools in San Jose, Calif., for example, students take a portion of their academics online—generating $500,000 in savings per school annually. Schools use that money for higher teacher salaries and one-on-one tutoring.
You can read the article to learn how this impacts the unions since that wasn't my point.
As an aside, this is exactly why Gemba Academy has been so successful at delivering online lean learning to over 1,000 companies. The ability for large-scale mass customization of high quality curricula based on the circumstances of individual organizations and deliver it on demand.