NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teachers Unions Challenge Virtual Education

April 22, 2013

Advances in technology have led to an increase in virtual education. Though the industry is attracting significant investment and more schools are offering hybrid or online classes, teachers unions may ultimately slow the growth of technology in education, says Katherine Mangu-Ward, managing editor of Reason Magazine.

  • Education technology firms attracted $1.1 billion in venture capital in 2012, which is more than 10 times what the industry was attracting in 2002.
  • Virtual education, like hybrid learning which sends kids to school to be instructed by a computer, has not become as popular in K-12 as it has at the university level.
  • Universities are now offering Massive Open Online Course and other virtual alternatives that cut the cost of earning a college degree significantly.

For K-12 education, politicians have not decided how they will revamp the public sector system to raise student test scores from their stagnated growth. If politicians decide to support online education, then the system of traditional public schools could be modified to become more accommodable to technologically advanced solutions. However, if politicians turn against online education by creating a difficult regulatory environment, the possibility for personalized learning and individualized feedback could be diminished.

  • Currently, most states have requirements that students must sit in desks looking at a teacher for a certain number of hours every day -- called the seat time and line of sight requirements.
  • In states where online education has been implemented, local and state teachers unions have challenged virtual education in court by seeking to limit enrollment in the charter schools that utilize the technology, by pushing for virtual schools to be closed and by seeking to limit enrollment to students who live "in district," despite that defeating the benefits of the Internet.

One problem with online education is similar to that of charter schools: how can the public assess the effectiveness of largely untested methods of instruction? Currently, online education is most effective at educating students who already lost in the system -- dropouts, home schoolers, disabled and gifted students.

Education technology entrepreneurs must create online learning systems that are significantly better than the free alternative, while at the same time changing the entire education bureaucracy.

Source: Katherine Mangu-Ward, "Will Teachers Unions Kill Virtual Learning," Reason Magazine, April 11, 2013.


Browse more articles on Education Issues