Archives for category: Online Education

David Deming, director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard, warns about the possibility of substituting online learning for real teachers.

He writes in the New York Times:

As the coronavirus pandemic forces schools and college campuses to go online, the delivery model of education — largely unchanged for centuries — has suddenly been disrupted.

This may seem like the acceleration of a permanent shift toward online learning, but I have my doubts. In fact, economics tells us that technology will make in-person education more valuable than ever.

At the moment, teachers from kindergarten through graduate school are struggling to take their classes online, and the initial results are, understandably, spotty. But the longer this mass experiment continues, the more familiar remote learning will become. And, has been predicted for many years, online performances by superstars are increasingly likely to replace more pedestrian in-person lectures.

This can go only so far, because other important aspects of education are best done by teachers in more intimate settings. Educators will increasingly be tutors, mentors and role models, and economics also tells us that these features of a great education will not scale up.

Therefore, I worry not about the future of teachers but of students. I fear that on-campus learning will become an increasingly important quality differentiator, a luxury good that only students with means can afford.

Consider that online education has been around a lot longer than Covid-19. According to the latest estimates from the Department of Education, 35 percent of college students took at least one course online before the pandemic, and this share has been growing steadily for more than a decade.

This spring, schools and universities had to move courses online with only a few weeks’ notice, and the results have often been ugly. Students face significant challenges, such as spotty access to the internet or an unstable living environment.

Yet the long-term prospects for online learning are good — up to a point. Many universities already offered high-quality lectures online before this crisis, sometimes through partnerships with organization like edX and Coursera. Khan Academy has offered free courses for younger learners. The increased flexibility of online learning has been especially important when students need to balance burdens like jobs or, right now, to care for themselves or relatives who have fallen ill.

After this crisis ends, online lectures will still be increasingly valuable, because they are known in economics as “nonrival goods,” meaning they are not used up as more and more people view them. For this reason, the very best lecturers can teach everyone at the same time. This could make lesser lecturers obsolete and should, at least to some degree, generate much-needed productivity growth in education.

This seems grim for teachers, but I don’t think it will make us obsolete, for two reasons.

First, demand for education is a moving target, and as people become more prosperous they typically want better education, not worse.

So while cost is important, it’s not everything. Bending the higher-education cost curve through online lectures may seem appealing, but the point isn’t to enable everyone to learn on the cheap. Rather, people will want better education for the money, and online lectures alone won’t do it.

This explains why massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, have largely failed to disrupt traditional education despite the hype. Lectures are part of education, but they are not the best part.

Second, as online lectures become better and cheaper, the other essential components of education will take more time and energy.

Within economics this is known as unbalanced growth: the tendency for resources to shift toward parts of the economy where productivity growth is lowest. It is partly why the bulk of U.S. employment has moved away from manufacturing and into the service sector and, in education, why tuition and salaries keep rising. Precisely because they are personal, services are hard to scale up — few people are interested in mass-produced child care, for example.

The personal services provided by educators include tutoring, individualized feedback and mentoring, and numerous studies, as well as countless individual experiences, show that such services are essential for learning.

Good teachers work with students individually or in small groups to diagnose and remedy specific learning gaps. A survey of nearly 200 educational experiments found that “high dosage” tutoring — defined as groups of no more than six students meeting at least four times per week — was one of the most effective ways to improve learning. High-frequency individual feedback also greatly improves student performance.

Teachers are critically important as mentors and role models as well, the studies show. Students are more likely to complete a college degree when teachers have high expectations of them. A female instructor greatly increases the performance of women in math and science courses and their subsequent interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.

Furthermore, racial gaps in course performance are smaller in classes taught by professors from underrepresented groups. Yet the implications of this research extend even beyond race and gender. Mentors matter for everyone, and they can have a powerful impact on students’ life choices and career success. There is simply no technological substitute for these aspects of great teaching.

Because of unbalanced growth, efficiency gains in online instruction will cause educators to shift toward more personal forms of education. Moreover, what economists call “cost disease” tells us that the price of tutoring, mentoring and direct personal intervention will rise, even as lectures are provided more efficiently online.

If these trends continue unchecked, on-campus learning and intensive interaction between teachers and students may eventually become unaffordable for all but the wealthiest institutions and, probably, the wealthiest families.

Two changes are necessary to avoid this tragedy.

First, we must broaden access to institutions that can afford a high-quality on-campus experience. Second, universities under budgetary pressure should resist the temptation to think of online learning technology only as a means of cost reduction.

It is wonderful that technology has enabled millions of students to keep learning even when direct contact is impossible. But once this crisis ends, we will be better off if technology frees up precious class time so that educators and students can engage deeply with each other and build personal connections that will last a lifetime.

During her tenure as Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has taught the public many lessons, most of which she did not intend. Her radical agenda educated the public about the privatization movement and its ambition to cripple public schools. She taught us that there really are people who put the profits of for-profit colleges above the students who were defrauded by them.

PeterGreene says she taught us why the Secretary of Education should be an educator.

He quotes a recent conference call that’s head with reporters. One thing is clear: she has no empathy or understanding of those who work in the schools. She is utterly indifferent to their knowledge and experience.

He writes:

Meanwhile, privatizers are chomping at the virtual bit to get students shoved into more profitable avenues of education-flavored products, like her old friends at the Heritage Foundation who are cheering her on to keep pushing the product because this is ed tech’s Katrina and by God they are going to cash in or know the reason why.

The Koch-funded Mercatus Center has more of the same. “Leverage the near-ubiquity of cellphones and internet to deliver instruction online,” but near-ubiquity is a lame measure, indeed. I imagine that none of these deep thinkers would like to be shot into space in a rocket that contains a near-ubiquity of oxygen tanks nor live in a home with a near-ubiquity of food. Worried about students with special needs? Senior policy analyst Johnathan Butcher reads the fed instructions as saying, “Give it a shot, but hey, if you have to leave them, leave them with our blessing.” Butcher adds “Parents, taxpayers, and policymakers should not allow traditional schools to claim they do not have the resources or expertise to deliver instruction online” based on God only knows what. And he touts the Florida Virtual School, Florida’s experiment in cyber-schooling that just keeps failing upward because Florida’s political leaders would rather finance a profitable turd than support public education.

In short, the amateurs are out in force, yammering about how schools should now see things their way, even though they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

It would be great, in the midst of all this, to be able to turn to a secretary of education who actually knew something–anything– about the inside of a classroom, who actually had a grasp of the many issues involved in the current crisis. I don’t mean to pick on DeVos, who is basically the Herbert Hoover of education right now– I can’t think of any secretary of education, not Arne “Katrina is super-duper” Duncan, not John King, not Rod Paige, not any of them, who would be worth a spoonful of rat spit right now.

But we could really use someone who knows what they’re talking about and isn’t just salivating at the chance to push some more anti-public ed policies. Of course, what any classroom teacher would know includes this– that when times get tough and crisis rear their heads, you can absolutely depend on the government bureaucrats to be largely useless, and you’d better figure out how to navigate this on your own. Which sucks, but it’s one of the many “hard things” that teachers already do, all the time.

We have known for a long while that the worst scandals in the charter sector are intertwined with online learning and cyber charters. Consider the bankruptcy last year of ECOT (the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) in Ohio, whose owner collected $1 billion from the state over nearly 20 years, but declared bankruptcy rather than pay the state $60 million for inflated enrollments.

Then there is the infamous A-1 scandal in California, where the owners and several cooperating school districts were indicted in San Diego nearly a year ago for the theft of $50 million from the state, a scheme that involved phantom students.

Yet here we are in the midst of a pandemic and most schools have been shutdown to protect students and staff from exposure to the coronavirus. Almost overnight, millions of students were required to continue learning by going online. The platforms are different, but tens of millions of students are engaged in distance learning.

Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute sees this asa fortuitous moment, an opportunity to revolutionize education. She calls it “A Revolution in Education, Born of a Necessity.”

She says, seize the moment.

She writes:

Said more simply: Those working “in the arena” to run great schools and support great teachers are charging full steam ahead to make the most of this period of remote learning. Those who have been quick to dismiss distance learning as “ineffective” are looking in the rearview mirror and imagining a world where past must be prologue, rather than embracing the innovation that this moment may well have sparked.

You will not be surprised to learn that I disagree. From what I see and read and hear, I believe that parents want to get back to their own work. They don’t want their children home all the time, learning at a screen. Those who want to home school are already doing it. More important, I think that students must miss their friends, their teachers, their social life, their teams and activities. Home Alone is a drag.

And then there is the inconvenient CREDO study of 2015, which found that students in virtual charter schools fell behind their peers in brick-and-mortar public schools. In a school year of 180 days, the online students lost 44 days in reading and 180 days in math.

If you want our whole society to go backwards, distance learning and cyber schooling will do it.

Parents, educators, and community activists in San Francisco formed an organization to protest the inequities in over reliance on distance learning. They call themselves StrikeReadySF. This is their manifesto.


We have been told that technology can’t be stopped and that we are heading for a jobless economy. We have been told that anyone who disagrees is an old fogey standing in the way of progress.

Peter Greene says “nonsense.”

Do you remember the predictions about 15 years ago that MOOCS would drive most institutions of higher education out of existence. Didn’t happen. Except for job-oriented and/or highly motivated persons, online instruction is boring except in small doses, monitored by a teacher.

Greene writes that venture capitalists have lost patience with self-driving trucks and cars.

As millions of parents have become involuntary home-schoolers, they see the limits of online instruction. Boredom sets in.

The Texas-based IDEA charter chain, along with the Noble Network in Chicago and the Match charter school in Boston, is trying to boost its college graduation rates by encouraging its former students who dropped out of college to enlist in an online college program where requirements are minimal. 

By partnering with Southern New Hampshire University, which enrolls tens of thousands of students from across the country in its low-cost online college programs, the charter operators are coaching students through college. The university provides the coursework and confers degrees, while an arm or affiliate of the charter networks recruits and mentors students.

The Noble charter network in Chicago launched its partnership last year, following the IDEA network in Texas and Match Charter School in Boston. Together, the three programs now enroll nearly 1,000 students, and other charter operators say they’re watching closely.

It’s a notable extension of those networks’ mission, which for years has been to send their mostly low-income students of color to college. More recently, though, it’s become harder to ignore the reality that many of their alumni are leaving higher education without degrees

If successful, these programs will provide students another chance to earn a degree that could bolster their financial futures, while also boosting the charter networks’ college completion rates…

So far, though, students in the programs have earned only a few dozen bachelor’s degrees. And the expansion of these programs worries some observers, who question whether students are getting a high-quality college experience — and whether the degrees students do earn will pay off in the job market.

IDEA launched IDEA-U in 2017 with around 40 students, including Chapa. Now, the program has around 400 students from across Texas enrolled, about half of whom are IDEA graduates.

Around 95 students are enrolled in Noble’s program, known as Noble Forward, which launched last year. Nearly all are graduates of a Noble school in Chicago.

Match’s program, initially called Match Beyond, began in 2013 by enrolling mostly Match alumni, but was spun off as a nonprofit called Duet in 2018. It now serves around 500 students who graduated from high schools across the Boston area.

The programs differ slightly, but the academics work the same way. Students enroll in one of a handful of “competency-based” degree programs offered by Southern New Hampshire University and progress by completing projects designed to show they’ve mastered key skills.

There are no lectures, professors, or class discussions, but students are assigned readings and videos. Students work at their own pace — instead of on a set academic calendar — re-submitting projects as many times as they need, though the university says students average around two tries. Their projects are evaluated by a university “reviewer” with at least a master’s degree.

Underlying question: Is the goal of this program to provide a valuable education to students or to improve the data of the sponsors?



Mr. and Mrs. Bill Gates apparently feel they are not winning enough battles in the court of public opinion, so they have created a lobbying organization to promote their ideas in Congress and state legislatures. 

Will the Gates lobby push for Common Core? For more high-stakes testing? For more federal funding for charter schools? For evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students? For more technology in the classroom?

These are but a few of Bill Gates’ failed education initiatives. Has he learned from failure or will he use his C4 lobby to push his failed ideas even more?

Bill and Melinda Gates have launched a lobbying organization to advocate for issues in health, education, and poverty, The Hill reported on Thursday.

The Gates Policy Initiative, which was announced on Thursday, will work with lawmakers on issues such as global health, global development, moving people from poverty to employment, and education for black, Latino, and rural students. The initiative, which will be a 501(c)(4) organization under the US tax code, is independent from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the billionaire couple’s philanthropic organization.

Rob Nabors, the director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the former White House director of legislative affairs during the Obama administration, told The Hill that the Gates Policy Initiative would work in a bipartisan way.

In an article in The Hill, Rob Nabors said the new lobbying organization would reflect the work of the foundation.

Much of what they’ve learned running their foundation will help them through the process of establishing a lobbying shop.

“Probably the most important point for us is similar to the way Bill and Melinda have approached their philanthropic giving and other things that they do. They are interested in learning what works and what doesn’t work,” Nabors said.

He said that if they are not successful in a couple of years, they will “shutter the shop and figure out what else could potentially be done.”

“I think that experimental type of approach, that innovative type of approach, is both relatively unique in this space and embedded into the DNA that Bill and Melinda bring with them,” he said.

Nabors said that when he worked in the Obama White House, his job was often described as the White House chief lobbyist.

“I’m excited to get back into the mix of talking to people specifically about the work that they are doing every day, trying to put bills together that will make people’s lives better,” he said.

He added that Bill and Melinda Gates also bring a unique lens to a lobbying shop.

“They are very data-focused so a number of the types of issues that we will be exploring and the solutions that we are exploring are based on data that we collected from programs that we funded,” he added.



Oklahoma has underfunded its public schools over the past decade. Many districts have switched to a four-day week to save money.

Some rural districts, facing insolvency, are turning their schools over to Epic, a for-profit online charter chain, which can balance the books by putting kids online and cutting teachers’ jobs.

Like all online charter schools, EPIC overstates its “gains” while its actual results are less than mediocre.

“To save his financially imperiled school district, Panola Superintendent Brad Corcoran in 2017 pitched a plan to convert the traditional public district into a charter school. 

“In becoming a charter, Panola Public Schools would turn over its management to a company affiliated with Epic Charter Schools, the largest online school in the state. The school board agreed. 

“The Epic-related firm contributed $100,000 toward Panola’s debt as part of the agreement. That company manages the small district for a more than 10 percent cut of its funding.  Panola’s high school students now have the option to attend most classes online from home.

“The deal was unprecedented. Not only was it one of the first conversions-to-charter in the state, it allowed Epic’s company to operate a school and gain many benefits denied other charter schools: It could tap into and spend local property tax revenue to cover costs of student transportation, school buildings and sports facilities, like traditional school districts.

“And Epic didn’t stop at Panola….”

Epic has 23,000 in Oklahoma and it is growing in California as well.

”Trice Butler, superintendent of Wilburton Public Schools, which neighbors Panola, said she is concerned that Epic is looking to replicate what it’s done in Panola in other districts.

“Butler said her primary concern is her belief that students at Epic are receiving a subpar education. She cited Epic’s low high school graduation rates and high numbers of students leaving Epic and returning to traditional schools with academic credit insufficient for the time they were enrolled. (Epic maintains that some students come to them behind in credits and the school helps them catch up.)

“Epic’s presence in Panola has also raised concerns about aggressive attempts to attract students and teachers from surrounding school districts even in the middle of the academic year.

”Panola spent $650 for postcards, and at least some were sent to addresses in nearby Wilburton school district, promising a customized education for students and touting the school’s “double-digit academic growth.”

“Butler called this “predatory marketing” and said the statements made on the postcard are misleading.

“Panola elementary students did post positive academic growth on the latest school report cards, with 80 percent of students improving between 2016-17 and 2017-18. But only 27 percent of those students scored on grade level, compared with 57 percent in Wilburton and 51 percent statewide.”

Oklahoma has followed a policy of large tax cuts for corporations, especially those in the oil, gas, and fracking industry, and budget cuts for education and other public services. The state is abandoning its future.


The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is outraged that The Audacious Project is honoring the Waterford online preschool program, which will use this platform to expand their efforts to open additional  online preschools. Early childhood experts agree that this is harmful to children. I say it is a mean and stupid idea. Efforts to put little children in online schools should be denounced, not celebrated. Children need real interaction with real human beings.

Please sign the petition.


For Immediate Release

David Monahan, CCFC:; (617) 896-9397

Early Childhood Advocates Call On The Audacious Project to Reconsider Major Award for Online Preschool
A TED philanthropy project would widen educational inequality and deprive children of the hands-on preschool experiences they deserve.

BOSTON, MA – April 12, 2019 – Early childhood advocates are calling on The Audacious Project, housed at TED and designed to fund ideas for social change, to postpone plans to designate Waterford UPSTART, an online “preschool” program, as one of the participants in its funding program for 2019.  Award winners will be announced at TED2019 in Vancouver on April 16. Last year’s award winners averaged $63 million in new funding. According to a Waterford representative, the funding will allow UPSTART to dramatically increase the number of children enrolled in its program.

In their call for The Audacious Project to postpone funding, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Defending the Early Years (DEY) point to their October 2018 Position Statement on Online Preschool, which has been endorsed by more than 100 experts in child development and early education. The experts and advocates say that online preschool programs like UPSTART are poor substitutes for high-quality early education, and that funding online programs instead of high-quality early education will make inequality worse, not better.

“There is a tremendous need for universal pre-K, and it’s admirable that The Audacious Project wants to address educational inequalities, but online preschool is not the answer,” said Nancy Carlsson-Paige, EdD, Professor Emerita at Lesley University and DEY Senior Advisor. “Kids learn by playing, exploring, and interacting with peers and caring adults – not by memorizing letters, numbers, and colors presented to them on screens. Children who receive UPSTART’s screen-based version of a preschool experience will be disadvantaged compared to children from more resourced communities who have play-based, experiential early education. A truly audacious project would take the funding intended for these online programs and direct it instead to giving low-income, rural, or otherwise underserved children the high quality, face-to-face education they deserve.

UPSTART, which started with public funding from the state of Utah and has spread to at least seven other states, claims to promote “kindergarten readiness” through 15 – 20 minutes per day of online instruction. But advocates say that UPSTART’s lessons are poorly designed and developmentally inappropriate. An analysis of one UPSTART lesson by DEY found it was pedagogically unsound, “confusing” and “overloaded with distracting images.” UPSTART also recommends that children wear headphones and complete lessons alone, contrary to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that parents “co-view with your children [and] help children understand what they are seeing.”

“Online preschool should never be rewarded or considered a legitimate alternative to high-quality early care and education,” said Denisha Jones, PhD, JD, Director of Teacher Education at Trinity Washington University and Director of Organizing for DEY.  “I implore The Audacious Project to reconsider giving money to a screen-based program at a time where early childhood experts are increasingly concerned with screen time and the loss of high-quality interactions between children and educated early childhood teachers. Programs like UPSTART may be less expensive than real universal preschool, but those savings come at the expense of the low-income kids and kids of color they purport to help. We should be investing our money, time, and resources to ensure all children have access to affordable, high-quality, early childhood education.”

Last year, seven of The Audacious Project designees were granted a total of $441 million from partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. It is not yet known which groups are funding UPSTART, or exactly how much money the program will receive, but an email from a Waterford PR representative indicated that the award will be enough to “provide an opportunity for every four-year-old to be ready for kindergarten.” (Emphasis in original.)

The DEY/CCFC letter pointedly states, “We don’t believe your impressive list of funders and partners would be satisfied if their own children spent 75 minutes a week on a computer in isolation as a substitute for face-to-face preschool rooted in caring relationships and social interaction.” It also warns that a major expansion of online preschool could derail the growing movement for real universal preschool. It asks The Audacious Project to postpone the award and meet with advocates to better understand their concerns.

Added Josh Golin, Executive Director of CCFC, “Over and over, we’ve seen educational technology such as 1:1 programs, virtual charter schools, and personalized learning software falsely marketed as a panacea for inequality. Now the EdTech evangelists have set their sights on preschoolers. Isolated children on computers guided by algorithms can never replicate the joyful exploration and interactions at the core of the preschool experience. We urge The Audacious Project to rethink this award.

The DEY/CCFC letter can be read in full here.


The British giant Pearson announced that it was creating a venture capital fund to invest in new technologies to transform education.


More tech trash on the way!

Protect your child from tech capitalization and monetization!

Press release:

“We are launching Pearson Ventures, a fund to invest in growth stage start-ups that are building the future of education and employment. Pearson Ventures will build on the success of Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund and will continue to lead our ongoing partnership with Learn Capital.”

Today Pearson, the world’s learning company, made an announcement regarding how they plan to support startups in building the groundwork for the next era of education and employment.

Here’s the gist of the news:

  • Because education will look very different in 2030, Pearson, like learners all over the world, will need to continue to learn, adapt and reinvent itself: finding new business models, incorporating emerging technologies into its products and services, and finding new ways to collaborate with education institutions, government, and businesses.
  • To do so, Pearson is launching Pearson Ventures, a fund to invest in early stage start-ups who are building the future of education and employment.
  • With an initial capital commitment of $50M over three years, Pearson Ventures will invest in companies building new market opportunities with innovative business models, future technologies and new educational experiences.
  • Pearson Ventures will focus primary in early-stage startups with Series A and B rounds.

Below, please see the blog post regarding the announcement, or find it here.

Let me know if you have any other questions on the news. Thanks!


Pearson Ventures: The Future of Learning

Jonathan Chocqueel-Mangan, Chief Strategy Officer at Pearson

Students entering school today face the possibility of being the first generation of 100-year-old workers. Just let that sink in. Having a career that lasts late into life means the skills and knowledge learned in childhood, or a degree earned at 20 years old, won’t be enough for success in a rapidly changing economy. Whether it is a student seeking help with math homework, or an adult seeking a masters degree, we know learners need education that is convenient, flexible and life changing. We also know education will look different in the future, so finding new business models, incorporating emerging technologies into our products and seeking new partners for collaboration is becoming more important than ever.

That’s why we are launching Pearson Ventures, a fund to invest in growth stage start-ups that are building the future of education and employment. Pearson Ventures will build on the success of Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund and will continue to lead our ongoing partnership with Learn Capital. PALF has invested over $20M in some of the world’s most impactful education startups, improving education for underserved populations, while returning more than $7 million to the company. But as we look to the future, this new approach is a way to shift our investment work to align more closely with Pearson’s five-year strategy, especially our focus on lifelong learning and employability.

With an initial capital commitment of $50M over three years, Pearson Ventures will invest in companies building new market opportunities using innovative business models, future technologies, and new educational experiences. While Pearson Ventures will pursue competitive financial returns, equally important is its ability to collect shareable insights and drive organizational learning to help future-proof the company. As a result, we will be doing things a bit differently than a typical venture fund.

Investment Criteria: Pearson Ventures will focus primarily in early-stage startups with Series A and B rounds, typically partnering with venture firms and accelerators through a co-investment structure. While we will have a global remit, we will focus on geographies where Pearson already has a significant footprint, both to maximize the strategic benefits to our investees and the relevance to Pearson.

Investment Focus: We will prioritize companies who are working in areas of high strategic importance, including employability, lifelong learning, and next-generation assessment; offering new technological capabilities such as artificial intelligence, mobile-first delivery, remote proctoring, or augmented/virtual reality; creating social impact through upskilling, income share agreements, or increasing higher-ed access.

Leveraging Pearson’s Scale and Reach:Pearson Ventures will deliver unique benefits beyond just capital. As a global learning company, Pearson Ventures will proactively connect its portfolio companies with relevant experts in content, product design, and business development, as well as advise on geographic and market expansion. In most cases, new investments will have a Pearson advocate or sponsor as a touch point, in addition to the investment team. On a case-by-case, and mutually agreed, basis, portfolio companies can also receive a seconded Pearson employee, or join a Pearson team or office as an entrepreneur-in-residence.

Through Pearson Ventures, we will continue our commitment to invest in businesses that have a social impact on learners. Alongside our commitments to improve learner outcomes and use digital to reach more people, Pearson Ventures is one more way we’re becoming more innovative, learner-centered, and future-focused.