Why all the attention?

On June 1 Michael Horn wrote an article (published in EducationNext) that explaines why charter schools get more attention for blended learning than traditional brick and mortar schools. He starts the piece off by saying:

“Public school districts began innovating with blended learning before most charter schools. According to surveys that Brian Bridges has conducted in multiple states, including California where blended learning is growing rapidly, more school districts utilize blended learning than do charter schools. And the pace of innovation with blended learning is picking up within school districts nationwide.”

This is an interesting topic to me because one of the issues I am studying for my dissertation is the relationship between technology-based charter schools and traditional public schools. (Side note: I should say here — and this might see itself as an interesting topic for another blog post– we always tend to ask how charter schools influence public schools and not the other way around, which is an important question too.)

Horn gives us two reasons. He says, one, the greater press for blended charter schools is because charter schools use blended learning to change their entire model and, two, because of their student outcomes.

The idea of this “radical change to the educational process” (Horn’s idea number one) is certainly a hook. Though I am less convinced by the outcomes argument simply because after providing this evidence Horn then gives examples of positive outcomes in traditional school models. To me this says that outcomes are not necessarily what drive press, something else does.

With only giving these arguments there are two huge points that are under looked in Horn’s piece. Charter schools tend to advertise much more than traditional public schools (and hey, maybe that’s why we’ve heard so much more about them and their different models) and also they are a controversial policy idea that everyone is holding under the microscope. We tend not to hear about the happenings in the public school districts that have continually performed well because, frankly, high performing school districts finding ways to still be high performing doesn’t play well in the news cycle. We want to know what the charter schools are doing. Thenews cycle of “charter schools are different” feeds the beast providing unique stories that draw our attention because they are inherently different and are inherently talking points.

This is not to say that the attention on charter schools or public schools is necessarily a positive or negative finding. However, we have to remember that sometimes the most obvious and powerful institutions and norms are the ones that go unnoticed. It is interesting to me then that Horn gives these traditional school examples that seem effective an innovative at the same time. Food for thought. Maybe we will start talking about them more, but I am not so sure.

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