Mail Order Schools: the Past and Present of Distance Learning

Students flailing without real teachers. Sky-high dropout rates. Aggressive sales pitches. Sound familiar? Have You Heard revisits America’s first great love affair with distance learning, the learn-by-mail craze that swept the nation 100+ years ago. The case for distance learning made by the original (for profit) edu-preneurs was virtually identical to what we’re hearing today. But while they sold the promise of “personalized learning” free from the distraction of classmates, distance learning 1.0 suffered from the same problem that plagues its 21st century counterpart: learning alone has never worked for the vast majority of students. Special guests: education historian Bob Hampel and “Young Jack,” a student at an early 20th century correspondence school. Complete transcript available here.

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Is *Progressive Charter School* an Oxymoron?

Remember back in the early days of the charter school movement when charter proponents used to talk about 1,000 flowers blooming? Well, a funny thing happened to all of those flowers when they encountered an education marketplace where test scores and competition reign supreme. In this episode we meet the winner of the first-ever Have You Heard graduate student research contest, Elise Castillo, who researched the fate of three progressive New York City charter schools. We talk to Elise about what she learned and why market-based education reform may finally be losing its, well, market share. Warning: this episode contains multiple references to Jennifer’s favorite buzzword! Full transcript available here. And if you like the pod, consider supporting us on Patreon.

To Market, To Market

A new study finds that with the education marketplace comes a whole lot of education marketing…

dressforsuccessJennifer Berkshire: I thought I’d set the stage for our conversation by describing a great, by which I mean appalling, example of education marketing in action. Donald Trump visits a Cleveland charter school that advertises itself as *top-rated* despite getting an *F* rating from the state. And the school is operated by a deep-pocketed for-profit chain that is *on a journey towards excellence.* Thoughts?

Catherine DiMartino: It makes me think about health care advertising. With health care you have the FDA putting certain limitations and providing some kind of oversight. Education is a public good and this is children’s learning and their future, but there’s no kind of regulation.

Berkshire: One of the points you make is that parents, and even teachers, are increasingly on the receiving end of what I’ll helpfully call *ed-vertising* without even being aware that what they’re looking at has been *marketized.* Explain.

Sarah Butler Jessen: They might not be aware that when they go to these websites, for example, that what they’re looking at isn’t necessarily imagery of the actual school they’re considering. They’re looking at websites with stock photos of kids that have been OK’d by charter management organizations that encourage schools to pick the photos. They’re not even always using pictures of the school’s own students. Continue reading →