NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

We Need a Brand New K-12 System

November 9, 2012

The American education system is in a dire need to revamp. Digital learning can be an instrumental operation toward capturing this nation's enormous intellectual potential. However, this will require reshaping the reform agenda, specifically school finance and governance. By extension, increasing student achievement -- as well as individualizing instruction and creating quality options for children and families among, within and beyond schools -- will depend to a considerable extent on how deftly our K-12 system can exploit this potential, says Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

There are three potential barriers.

First are the self-centered interest groups. 

  • Factions that benefit from the current system will do their best to challenge virtual learning, ensuring that nothing threatens their power, membership or resources.
  • However, leaving these public agents in charge of digital instruction will shackle innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and dynamic competition.

Second is the question of organizational capacity.

  • The public school system is America's second largest industry. Over the past three decades, this expansion has not translated into better academic performance.
  • Instead, it has promoted greater bureaucratization and routinization of the K-12 enterprise, and demonstrated little innovation.
  • Furthermore, the education system's addiction to cash and its assumption that nothing can be done differently without additional resources has impaired necessary progress.
  • According to a recent analysis by the Parthenon Group, full-time virtual schooling currently costs, on average, about $3,600 less per person that its traditional counterpart.

Third are the fundamental structural flaws.

  • The current antiquated system bottlenecks innovations and progress. There is little rationale for this system; students should be able to direct resources to the academic services of their choice.
  • Resource mobility that parallels student mobility is key; doing so, allows investments in new kinds of instructions.

On balance, public officials do have a role to exert curricular quality control and to buffer against potential "virtual menaces." Nonetheless, this does not mean that the public sphere is in charge of digital learning, which, under the current system, the government presupposes. 

Source: Chester E. Finn, Jr., "First, We Need a Brand New K-12 System," Education Next, Winter 2013.


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