While many public education advocates are demanding that the Texas Legislature restore the deep cuts from last session, some education reformers are touting the benefits of charter schools, online learning and technology-driven instruction. Such was the case today at a Capitol press conference announcing a new initiative called “Texans Deserve Great Schools.” Funded by four big-dollar foundations, the initiative is pushing for increased “blended learning”—integrating computer-mediated learning with face-to-face classroom instruction. The speakers mostly described their high-concept approach in philosophical terms. But when it came to how it would work in a time of austerity for schools, things got a little… awkward.
“I was at an education conference where we dissected frogs on iPads,” said Rev. Raymond Bryant, vice-chair of the pro-school choice group Black Alliance for Educational Options. “The app costs $3, the frogs cost $7. If you use the app for every class, with something as simple as that, you’re talking about millions of dollars just changing from buying frogs to having an app that you use.”
“And no formaldehyde!” chimed in Caprice Young, vice president of education for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. (John Arnold is a Houston billionaire, who’s also been pouring his money into campaigns to overhaul pension plans nationwide.)
But a reporter in the crowd did a double take. ”Wait, but how much is the iPad?” he asked.
“You could probably get it for free if you tried; people are giving them away. We’ve come a long way with that,” Bryant said, to a room full of chuckles, then silence.
So, the reporter followed up, “Where? Where are they giving them away?”
“Well, uh, different question,” answered Bryant, before waxing philosophical. “The issue that I want to deal with is, we talk about public education and somehow we lose sight of the reality that public education is an idea. Public education is the idea that we educate the public… We have to stop putting everything in a box as if there’s only one place or one way to do it.”
Texans Deserve Great Schools is getting a boost from Sen. Dan Patrick, the Houston Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee and calls vouchers the “civil rights issue of our time.”
Added technology, more charter schools, and greater access to online learning, according to Young and Bryant, will help solve Texas’ public education problems. “Somehow we’ve lost sight of what we really need to do to educate the public,” Bryant concluded.