To the Editor:
Two front-page stories in your Aug. 27, 2008, issue highlight the budget shortfalls schools are facing and discuss ways districts are trying to meet them (“Hard Times Hit Schools”; “Districts Cut Back Busing, Seek Ways to Save Energy”). And although a number of people quoted in the articles acknowledge that hard times are cyclical, not one offers a solution that gets to the root of the problem. No one is looking outside the box, but instead just recommending the same old, same old ways of temporarily dealing with a system that is essentially moribund.
What a great opportunity this crisis du jour presents for rebooting learning once and for all. This is the time to get really serious about using technology to plug budgetary holes. Why eliminate Spanish when children can learn it online? Why forgo Advanced Placement courses when Apex Learning Inc., an online-curriculum company, offers more than a dozen? Why make children go to a school building when a great deal of learning can be done at home or in a community center, on a computer? Why invest in expensive textbooks that are obsolete as soon as they are published, when their information can be transmitted better, cheaper, and up-to-date in real time over the Internet?
Take California as a case in point. With a $16 billion budget deficit, it recently mandated that all 8th graders take Algebra 1 by 2011. Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, has put a $3 billion price tag on the enterprise. In the heated debate about the measure, has anyone suggested that California use Carnegie Learning products, which are deliverable online and quite successful at teaching algebra?
We have a golden opportunity now that circumstances are forcing the establishment to do something. Let’s hope it will be the right thing, and not the old thing.
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 2008 edition of Education Week as Think Outside the Box in Hard Budget Times