Public Education Finance Act

Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace

Michael Horn and Meg Evans: Don’t let scare tactics obscure benefits

Written by
Michael Horn is education executive director and Meg Evans is education program associate at the Innosight Institute, a think-tank that focuses on inn

Gov. Rick Snyder surprised the education world a year-and-a-half ago when he announced his intention to change Michigan’s schools into ones where students could learn “any time, any place, any way, [and] any pace.” Realizing this goal is critical to bolstering Michigan’s public schools and lifting the futures of all students.

The Oxford Foundation’s draft rewrite of the School Aid Act of 1979 moves toward realizing those aspirations.

Today’s schools were built to standardize the way they teach and test. The model, in which we batch students by age and teach them the same thing in the same way, is ineffective for the 21st century. As parents know, each child has different learning needs at different times. If we hope to have all children succeed in school and life, then we need a system that is just as personalized.

Today’s education system mandates the amount of time students spend in class, but does not expect each child to master learning. The result is that students don’t receive the support they need to master each subject before they move on to the next one.

The Oxford Foundation’s plan would move Michigan’s schools away from this anachronistic model toward a student-centric one by doing away with strict seat-time requirements, embracing meaningful assessments of growth, and allowing students and families to choose what education option is best for their student.

Public funding would follow students down to the course level — including online courses — thereby allowing each student to have access to the best option to succeed. Online courses allow for self-paced learning and ensure a student moves on only after mastering the subject.

Michigan blogs and opinion pages have been abuzz lamenting the danger of public school districts working with for-profit online course providers. This suspicion isn’t new. Having outside providers serving public education isn’t new either. The major textbook companies that serve public schools are for-profit firms, for example.

The rewrite levels the playing field for districts with charter public schools, as it enables them to enroll students statewide so that students would not have antiquated geographic boundaries standing in their way of a great education. The guiding question must be: What will it take for each student to achieve their greatest potential? The answer is likely a combination of great teachers, access to strong curriculum and a pathway tied to college and career readiness all made equitably available by public funding.

The focus must shift from inputs like time to outcomes of student learning and growth. Not all online courses are good, in the same way that not all classroom courses are good. The Oxford Foundation rewrite, however, does more to ensure accountability for online classes, proposing to pay online providers for performance. Providers would receive half of the course money upfront and the rest only when the student successfully completes the course.

The rewrite will present students and families with quality choices for their education and transform public education in the process. Discussion of details, definitions and logistics will help in the coming months. Ideological browbeating will not.