Washington online programs threatened briefly

By:

Mar 4, 2010

A proposed budget out of Washington State’s House and Ways Means Committee last week would have eliminated funding for the state’s Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs for students in K-6. Given that K-6 online public programs operate under ALE, if that had been enacted as proposed, they would all have been shut down.

After an outpouring of responses from families across the state that would have been affected, Representative Pat Sullivan stepped in and introduced an amendment that restored ALE and restored the supposed savings through cuts to transportation. The amendment passed unanimously. Good move.

I get that there is a budget crisis right now and that things need to be cut. I advocate for that in many cases. Although we might wish for more funding for everything, it is neither realistic nor a good idea.

But eliminating programs that have the potential to disrupt the traditional monolithic education system and be part of the wave that transforms the education system into a student-centric one isn’t smart. Online learning can be a way to transform the system into a lower cost one that saves the public money and gets better results—read Tom Vander Ark’s blog on the topic here and Governor Bob Wise and the Alliance for Excellent Education’s report on how online learning can help solve the shortage of quality teachers, improve student outcomes, and allow states to do more despite flat education budgets here.

Walking away from this opportunity and kicking out the homeschoolers who have joined public education in the last decade won’t cause this revolution to stop. It just means that the revolution would not have been under the auspices of the state of Washington’s public education system.

Online providers are innovating constantly in the private space to deliver affordable high-quality education. For example, in a list that’s growing nearly every day it seems, another online school of which I had not heard popped onto my radar recently. It’s called Advantages Online Private School, and it offers a full-year of schooling for tuition rates between $3,000 and $4,000.

Public systems will push out online learning only at their own peril—and to the detriment of their students. Perhaps we wouldn’t expect this not to be a struggle in the public landscape? After all, it’s hard to overcome the innovator’s dilemma and disrupt yourself. That doesn’t mean disruption won’t still happen or that ignoring it is a good idea. Washington’s public education system dodged a bullet here. To follow this storyline, you can check out these sites here and here.

– Michael B. Horn

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.