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Hess: The Keys to E-Learning Success

The ability to measure cost effectiveness in education, and convince parents and educators that it's in their best interest, will determine the future of online education, according to a paper authored by the American Enterprise Institute's Frederick M. Hess.

The paper is the first of a six-installment series tackling K-12 virtual education issues that was commissioned by the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank with a self-stated mission of devoting itself to parent educational choice.

Hess, who also blogs here at edweek.org, argues that the education system needs to be reshaped from a public service model that he says is run by partisans and interest groups who have no motivation to disclose or share the system's cost-effectiveness. Such a reshaping would include the elimination of all sorts of policies, from seat-time requirements, to class-size and student-teacher-ratio limits, to geographic district boundaries. And it would also require major overhaul of teacher licensure, staffing models, and pay and funding structures.

The paper also explores three ways to measure quality—via input, via outcomes/results, or via the marketplace—and says balancing those three approaches in the future evaluation of virtual programs is key to avoiding the shortcomings of each method. But that discussion is secondary to the manner in which Hess links the argument for reform to political forces that he says are preventing it.

While you and I are familiar with the arguments for competency-based pathways, staff restructuring, etc., what Hess freely admits that many of us don't touch is that many of the current educational players—teachers, textbook providers, food service providers, administrators, local governments—stand to lose money, positions, or influence with drastic policy restructuring. What's less clear—and what may be needed before reform really takes shape—is an explanation of how those players can benefit and thrive in a new model.

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