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Bill Gillies - Editor

Technology as thin edge

Liberating Learning is a sure-to-be controversial book that argues that technology will be the key to bringing quality education to students across the U.S., largely by sidestepping restrictions that the authors say teachers unions have put in place to block reform.

In a review in today’s Wall Street Journal, James Glassman says the book by Terry M. Moe and John E. Chubb picks up on an issue raised by the two authors in their 1990 book, “Politics, Markets and America’s Schools.” In the first book, the authors argued that the poor showing of American schools compared to other industrialized countries was largely the result of special-interest groups – mainly teachers unions.

But Glassman writes that Messrs. Moe and Chubb believe that technology can be the magic bullet.

Teachers unions, of course, are appalled. They know that “the new computer-based approaches to learning simply require far fewer teachers per student — perhaps half as many, and possibly fewer than that,” Messrs. Moe and Chubb write. Online charter schools employ two or three teachers per 100 students; the average public school employs 6.8 per 100. Technology also disperses teachers geographically (making them elusive for union organizers); lets in private-sector players who aren’t members of the guild; and enables outsourcing to foreign countries. For unions, technology is poison…

The authors also believe that, by allowing the door to be cracked open with online schools, the unions won’t be able to shut it. With the encouragement of students’ parents, millions of children will rush in, overcoming current union-imposed enrollment caps. Since labor costs keep rising, school districts, hard-pressed for funds, will naturally turn to technology as a way to get more for less. Mostly, though, Messrs. Moe and Chubb are determinists who believe that the political problem will be solved because it has to be. They make a good case, but hardly an air-tight one. “Technology,” they write, “is transforming nearly every aspect of American social life, and will keep transforming it in the decades ahead.”

I’m keen to hear readers’ responses to their argument.

Tags: School/College


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