By Kelly McCutchen
In “Time for a Reboot,” Checker Finn highlights four drivers of tomorrow’s education reforms:
1. Individualization. Without going crazy—everybody still needs to learn to multiply, to compose a grammatical sentence, to explain the background of the Civil War—education is ripe to shift from batch-processing to customizing kids’ instructional experience, moving from pre-set menus to some version of “grazing.” Not just with regard to what is learned or when, but also the mode of instruction—and the rate at which a youngster moves through school.
2. Technology hugely simplifies individualization. Over time, it will also save money, and some of those savings can be redeployed toward hiring better—but fewer—flesh-and-blood teachers. Completely “virtual” out-of-school education will have limited appeal—eight-year-olds still need an adult nearby, plus other kids—but there’s vast potential in “blended” learning under the school roof. And older kids can carry these options beyond the classroom.
3. Quality choices. Choice among schools is a fine thing, and the U.S. has made major strides in widening access for millions of kids via vouchers, charters, tax credits, savings accounts, and more. But some youngsters still have few options—and too many of the available options are mediocre. This part of the reform agenda needs more work, as does widening the marketplace to include choices among courses, delivery systems, even teachers.
4. Attaching the money to the child. All of the foregoing strategies will stumble so long as education dollars flow to schools and districts through multiple program channels that have little to do with which students attend which schools, that fund traditional district schools far more generously than “schools of choice,” and that cannot be counted upon to move if the child changes schools, courses, speed, or delivery system. Solidly placing all the money in the child’s backpack, varying the amount according to her circumstances, giving families substantial say over what schools (or other vendors) will receive it, then empowering the school to spend it however does that child the most good—this may turn out to be the most liberating reform of all.
The good news is, although much remains to be done in the area of implementation, Georgia is a leader in 1, 2 and 3. Regarding funding, Gov. Deal says reform of the antiquated QBE formula is on the near-term agenda, and the “backpack” model seems to be the most likely result. (See the “Smarter Funding, Better Outcomes” study, the Reason Foundation’s Weighted Student Funding Yearbook.)
Clint Bolick discussed Education Savings Accounts at last month’s Georgia Legislative Policy Forum (click the link for video of the speeches), a new policy innovation recently passed in Arizona and Florida that truly lets parents spend education funds in a variety of ways. At the same event, Sajan George, founder of the nonprofit Matchbook Learning, discussed his blended learning model that is showing good results in the City of Detroit.
Our biggest challenge will be to make sure these new educational opportunities are available to those who most need them.