Bruce Baker of Rutgers University shows in this post that the dream of cutting costs by replacing teachers with computers has been oversold and is a fantasy. It lures entrepreneurs and snake-oil salesmen into education but there is no evidence to support the claims.

Baker traces the latest iteration of the myth of cutting costs and achieving efficiency. Open the link to see the graph that promised huge savings:

“Modern edupreneurs and disrupters seem to have taken a narrow view of technological substitution and innovation, equating technology almost exclusively with laptop and tablet computers – screen time – as potential replacements for teachers – whether in the form of online schooling in its entirety, or on a course by course basis (unbundled schooling).[ii] For example, the often touted Rocketship model (a chain of charter schools), makes extensive use of learning lab time in which groups of 50 to 70 (or more) students work on laptops while supervised by uncertified “instructional lab specialists.”[iii] Fully online charter schools have expanded in many states often operated as for-profit entities.[iv] The overarching theme is that there must be some way to reduce the dependence on human resources to provide equal or better schooling, because human resources are an ongoing, inefficient expense.

“In 2011, on the invitation of New York State Commissioner of Education John King (later, replacement of Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education), Marguerite Roza, at the time a Senior Economic and Data Advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,[v] presented the Productivity Curve illustration (Figure 11) at a research symposium of the New York State Board of Regents.[vi] Roza used her graph to assert that, for example, for $20,000 per pupil, tech-based learning systems could provide nearly 4x the bang for the buck as the status quo, and double the bang for the buck as merely investing in improved teacher effectiveness.

“The most significant shortcoming of this graph, however, was that it was entirely speculative[vii] (actually, totally made up! Fictional!) – a) not based on any actual empirical evidence that such affects could be or have anywhere been achieved, b) lacking any definition whatsoever as to what was meant by “tech-based learning systems” or “improve teacher effectiveness”, and c) lacking any information on the expenditures or costs which might be associated with either the status quo or the proposed innovations. That is, without any attention to the cost effectiveness frameworks I laid out in the previous chapter. The graph itself was then taken on the road by Commissioner King and used in his presentations to district superintendents throughout the state![viii]”

We now know from experience and evidence that fully online schools produce worse results with no savings in cost or efficiency (the cost savings are turned into profits for inferior education).

A very important post.