Stanford Emeritus Professor, education historian, and noted education technology realist/skeptic Larry Cuban sets out to throw a “dash of cold water on overheated hyperbole” around online and blended learning.
In his post, Cuban outlines two potential losses from the move towards more online learning. The first is equity:
And the losses? Another digital divide. Students in largely minority and low-income schools will receive more and more online instruction in regular courses and credit recovery programs (many summer schools have been canceled) than students encounter in affluent districts.
Cuban’s concern about equity is at the heart of the increasing scrutiny around credit recovery and other programs targeted at students who are not currently succeeding. It’s why, in our recent Education Next article, Lessons for my Online Learning, my colleague Erin Dillon and I wrote that without outside pressure, programs for these students could be the most vulnerable to quality concerns. And, we repeated Paul Hill’s warning that ongoing data collection and research is especially important for at-risk students and in areas like credit recovery, dropout prevention, and juvenile justice: “Almost every party involved with a poor kid who is about to drop out of school doesn’t want to turn that rock over.” For all these reasons, the bottom line for blended or online learning programs must be better student outcomes.
Cuban also worries that online learning is a “mid-point toward the destination of dismantling most schools” and “approximates a stylish version of vouchers” for education:
The second loss stems from a common error that enthusiasts for hybrids and online instruction including passionate futurists make again and again. They equate access to information with becoming educated. These very smart people ignore crucial purposes public schools have served historically in a democracy.
Schools have never been solely information factories; they have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose job is to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and live full and worthwhile lives. Few policymakers, few philanthropists, few civic and business leaders have challenged (or are willing to challenge) the decided tilt toward transforming schools into information factories.
Cuban’s cold water has my attention, but I’m not sure what he wants us to take away. Is he saying that online learning should be stopped in its tracks? Or, are these critical challenges to overcome? If done right, is there a way online and blended ideas could change schools for the better around these concerns?
He also identifies several of the most prominent programs in his post — School of One, Rocketship, Florida Virtual School. How does he see the issues above play out in these particular programs? What do we do to avoid these problems? Are there any programs getting it right?
To succeed, the rapid expansion of online learning needs thoughtful critics. It’s been over a decade since I was fortunate enough to take Larry Cuban’s class in graduate school. And now I want to hear more.
UPDATE: Larry Cuban responds in the comments on his site.