Two Surveys on MOOCs

MOOC Coffee

Two recent surveys offer some insight on the status of MOOCs in higher education. The first, conducted by Smart Brief, a content distributer for ASCD, asked the following question: Which statement best represents your views about online learning through massive online open courses in higher education?

  • Online learning through MOOCs may be a viable option for all students (53.91%)
  • Online learning through MOOCs is a good option for non-degree-seeking students only (21.74%)
  • Online learning through MOOCs is poised to disrupt the higher education model as a whole (16.52%)
  • Online learning through MOOCs is a passing fad (7.83%)

The answers suggest that the majority of educators are open to using MOOCs with their students. In a previous post, I have suggested another play; educational leaders should use MOOCs to engage teachers.

The second survey was one that was made by Coursera students called: MOOCs are not enough – How to use the full power of online education? Alert readers will notice that I repurposed their lead image. This survey has had more than 200 responses and has generated some ideas for improving online education. Three observations resonated with me.

  1. MOOCs offer a scalable method to learn anytime, anywhere and in very large and diverse groups.
  1. MOOCs need to invest in the trend toward personalizing education.
  1. Practical projects created during MOOCs are collaborative, peer reviewed, and often demonstrate deep and relevant learning.

New MOOC Model

The author sums up his recommendations with an informative graphic that illustrates how MOOCs should be more focused on student goals, move toward fully personalized learning, and remain free and flexible. The emphasis on free and flexible is not lost on me as a MOOC advocate for teacher professional development. Teachers are starving for high quality professional development. As a History-Social Studies teacher, I know that under the Common Core, all subject teachers need to be writing teachers. Unfortunately many History/Social Studies teachers have not had significant instruction and/or practice in historical writing. Worse, very few teacher professional development seminars focus on this topic. Further, the educational publishing market has compounded this problem by concentrating most Common Core curriculum development solely in the subjects of English and Math. Perhaps MOOCs could be used to train teachers interested in making their students college ready writers?

Sadly, I suspect most districts will wait until the new subject-matter assessments are created and then train teachers on how to help their students master the new standards. Kind of reminds me of this old New Yorker cartoon. I believe MOOCs could showcase inspirational teaching and make teacher PD uplifting. Anyone with me?



Honoring Joel Rothblatt

Joel Rothblatt, a UCLA colleague and close friend, suffered an inter-cranial brain hemorrhage and passed away on July 21, 2014. Joel was a popular, award-winning Social Studies teacher in LAUSD middle and high schools. He had worked for LAUSD since 2003 at Emerson Middle School, RFK’s High School for the Visual Arts and Humanities, and most recently at the Orville Wright STEAM Magnet.


Mr. Rothblatt held a BA in Political Science from UCLA, a MA in International Finance from Tufts University, and a MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Joel was bilingual in Spanish and became a National Board Certified teacher in Social Studies. Joel had written curriculum for the World History For Us All program at San Diego State University and served as a mentor to student teachers in USC-CALIS.

Joel served as President of the Southern California Social Science Association (SCSSA), was a highly respected Board member of the California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS), and was active in the instructional community for the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) as well. Under his leadership, the SCSSA developed a professional development model called iCircles, where small groups of teachers could share lessons and technology tips. Joel was very social and collegial. He was a teacher’s teacher who was very popular and praised by students. He loved sharing ideas and presented Best Practices seminars at numerous Social Studies conferences.

When his family learned that he would not recover, they elected to donate Joel’s organs to transplant patients. The only other positive from this tragic event was that it was so sudden there was no pain and suffering. Joel is survived by his three children, Dasha, Wyndam, and Max Rothblatt, his brother Steven, and his parents Don and Ann Rothblatt of Palo Alto, California.


The SCSSA is collecting memories of Joel to present to his family in a remembrance book. If you have any thoughts to share with his family and friends, please email it to A collection of Joel’s classroom materials will be auctioned with proceeds to go into a scholarship fund to benefit Joel’s children.


Can MOOCs Improve Teacher PD?

School districts spend the equivalent of $200/pupil on professional development (Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002). Unfortunately, teachers often view professional development as ineffectual or a waste of their time. Many programs offer “fragmented, intellectually superficial” seminars (Borko, 2004, p 3). Worse, these PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools (Barnett, 2002). This makes it difficult for teachers to implement new practices in environments resistant to change.

Anant Agarwal argues that massively open online courses matter and they should be viewed as next-generation textbooks. Educational leaders should take what we already know about MOOCs and use that information to drive change. For instance, research shows the people who benefit most from MOOCs are people who are already employed and who have multiple degrees. In my industry, we call these folks unionized teachers. There are approximately three million of them in the United States. Educational leaders should pilot test using MOOCs as PD modules and pair them with screening tools that identify teachers who are innovative, and proactive risk takers. Then, when districts want to implement new technology or pedagogical initiatives, they have a ready pool of talent are willing to try new things.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed nearly four hundred articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher professional development programs (the full list is available at The researchers examined forty research studies that represented high quality empirical research. The focus and purpose of these studies addressed five areas of concern: (a) Design of professional development; (b) Effectiveness of professional development; (c) Technology to support professional development; (d) Online communication and professional development; and (e) Research methods. These best practices deserve greater examination and experimentation.

MOOCs offer educational leaders an opportunity to cost-effectively pilot test staff training programs. Further, they produce robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective. This information can be analyzed to fine-tune the rollout of costly programs like 1:1 implementations. While for-profit entities shop their online education wares to low-income students in need of credit recovery, perhaps the smart play is to market MOOCs to people who want to be life-long learners, improve their technical skills, and increase their pedagogical moves.  These people are already in your buildings. They are your teachers.


Dede, C., Breit, L., Jass-Ketelhut, D., McCloskey, E., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA. November, 2005. Accessed at

Low Income Student College Readiness

Low Income Student

Credit recovery is the fastest growing area of online learning (McCabe & St. Andrie, 2012). These programs are highly unregulated and there is minimal information on their enrollments or effectiveness. It would be fair to say that most credit recovery programs have not been examined empirically. For virtual learning providers, this segment has proven to be a gold mine. Apex Learning, estimates that 50% of its enrollments are for credit recovery. Aventa Learning reported a 500% increase in its credit recovery business. The Sloan Consortium stated that credit recovery is the most popular type of its fully online courses. Molnar (2013) predicted that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry would grow by 43% between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion. As an educational researcher, this begs a question: Are virtual school/credit recovery operators preying on low-income students?

I assume that a disproportionate number of credit recovery students may be low-income. This may be due to my personal experience of working in a district where 80% of students are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch. Miron & Urschel (2012) found 39.9% of K12, Inc’s online students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with 47.2% for the same-state comparison group. In my district’s virtual academy, only 61% of students are classified as low-income, which is 19% lower than the district as a whole. Therefore, you might expect stronger academic performance from the virtual program, however, with a 630 API, the virtual program ranks 116 points below the District’s API of 746.

Decades of educational research have made it clear that low-income students are at the greatest risk for school failure. The ACT corroborates this in a recently released report: The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students From Low-Income Families. The authors used data from 1.8 million ACT-tested high school graduates from the US class of 2013. Of those, 428,549 (24%) were identified as being from low-income families. Nearly all (95%) of low-income students indicated they want to go to college, but only 69% took the recommended college prep curriculum in high school. Worse, only 20% of students met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Nearly half (49%) of students from low-income families did not meet any benchmarks.

CR Benchmarks

It is difficult to understand why educational leaders keep pushing low-income students who are the least likely to be successful into virtual/online programs where ten years of data from California Community Colleges (the very places where most of the low-income students wind up) has demonstrated that 4 out of every 10 of them will fail. Perhaps it is time to end the credit recovery experiment in low-income schools. Reichert & Hawley (2014) argued that the teacher-student connection does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; this relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out.

If policymakers were data-driven like teachers, they would understand that it is time to intervene and push virtual/online programs into affluent schools and ration our high-cost, high-touch, empathetic teaching talent for the struggle in low-income public schools. Instead, I suspect we will allow the free market to propagate the current policies that result in half of low-income students going 0 for 4 on ACT college benchmarks.

2012 ACT Results by Income



ACT (July 2014). The condition of college & career readiness 2013: Students from low-income families. Iowa City, IA. Accessed at

City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014). School profile:

City of Angels Virtual School & Independent Study Program. (2014).

API reports:

Johnson, H. & Mejia, M. (2014). Online learning and student outcomes in California’s community colleges. The Public Policy Institute of California. San Francisco, CA. Accessed at


McCabe, J. and St. Andrie, R. (2012) Credit recovery programs. The Center for Public Education. Alexandria, VA. Posted January 26, 2012 at

Miron, G & Urschel, J. (2012). Understanding and improving full-time virtual schools. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at

Molnar, A. (2013). Virtual schools in the US: Politics, performance, and research evidence. National Education Policy Center. Boulder, CO. Accessed at

Poor Results from Online Courses

There are substantial differences in MOOCs and in online courses taken for credit from California Community Colleges (CACCs). MOOCs are most often free and seldom for credit. Whereas, CACC online courses charge a fee and can be used for credit toward a certificate or Associate’s Degree, and/or be transferred to four-year universities. Despite these differences, it is reasonable to infer that CACC results from for credit online classes could set a benchmark for MOOCs to achieve, if they are to realize their promise in expanding free online education.


The Public Policy Institute of California published Online Learning and Student Outcomes in California’s Community Colleges. Johnson & Mejia (2014) examined longitudinal data from 750,000 enrollments from all 112 CACCs and found that online course success rates are lower than traditional courses. Further online learning increased racial achievement gaps.

Online Ach Gap

In 2011–12, 79.4 percent of enrolled students completed online courses, compared to 85.9 percent of those enrolled in traditional courses. While 70.6 percent of traditional students passed their courses, only 60.4 percent of online students passed. This 10-point gap has remained unchanged over the past ten years. In every college and in every subject area, students are less likely to succeed in online courses than in traditional courses.


Online CC Success Rates



Despite these negative short-term findings, the authors point out a positive long-term trend that bolsters hope for the expansion and viability of the online learning model. About 38 percent of community college students in the sample completed at least 60 units. For these students, taking online courses was strongly associated with improved long-term success rates. This was not true for students who completed between 30 and 60 units, approximately 22 percent of the sample. In this group, those who took some units online had only slightly higher completion rates than those who took no online courses. Thus, Johnson & Mejia found that students who have taken an online course were more likely than those who have not to earn an associate’s degree or to transfer to a four-year university.

Long-term Outcomes

With approximately one million students, online enrollment represents nearly 11 percent of all community college course enrollments. Educators and policymakers are optimistic about online learning’s potential to either reduce costs, or offer greater access. Johnson & Mejia optimistically conclude that online performance gaps can be minimized with strategic planning, improved technology, and increased funding. These results from a large sample of online learners should inspire MOOC providers and online learning enthusiasts, for they offer important data points to consider when comparing success rates between MOOCs and formal online education programs. What are the factors that enable fee-based community college online courses to have 60 percent course passage rates, while MOOCs, which are free and offer no credit, struggle to get 5 percent of their enrollments to complete the class? What would the course passage rate be if MOOCs were introduced in the K12 education market where compulsory attendance requires students to remain enrolled until they are 18 years old?

Online learning has the potential to increase access to higher education and to improve student achievement. CACCs could receive $56.9 million over the next 4-5 years from Governor Brown’s Online Education Initiative (OEI). What educational outcomes should we expect for that level of investment? For online courses to disrupt the status quo in public education they need to be less expensive than traditional, face-to-face courses and they need to yield comparable, if not superior, student outcomes.


Johnson, H. & Mejia, M. (2014). Online learning and student outcomes in California’s community colleges. The Public Policy Institute of California. San Francisco, CA. Accessed at

Will Online Learning Help Students?

My recent posts about UC Scout helping low-income students increase access to A-G and AP courses caused me to reflect about an experience while I was principal of a small high school (350 students). A vocal and generally supportive group of parents wanted a math teacher to oversee a small class (11 students) of AP Calculus. Unfortunately, 143 students (approximately 40% of the school) had failed Algebra 1. Thus, I had the choice of do I devote a teacher to instructing a small group of gifted students, or do I devote a teacher to help the students who still need to pass Algebra? Several parents threatened to move their child from the school if the teacher was not provided to the AP Calculus class.


As a compromise, we agreed to have the students take AP Calculus online. The math teacher agreed to work with the students during her conference period. Another teacher who was working toward Calculus certification agreed to host the students in his classroom and go through the Apex curriculum with them. Unfortunately, this solution did not work for the students, who found the independent work to be above their abilities. None of the students were able to score a 3 on the AP test, and receive credit.

I now realize that these results were consistent with this report on UC Scout, which indicated no matter how advanced the computer explanations are of A-G or AP course work, the vast majority of students will not succeed unless they have a caring teacher, who is an expert in the subject to troubleshoot, advise, intervene, offer multiple explanations, coach, cajole, and coax them through the course.

Another teacher recently contacted me via Twitter. She will be co-teaching a virtual course for the first time this fall. Since her grasp of the subject matter is not at the expert level, she was concerned that she might not be able to help students succeed in a hybrid online/in-person class.

My answer was to build a relationship with the students first, then focus on student needs to define what you want to accomplish as a teacher. Should your students read more, write more, collaborate more, or create more? Technology is merely a learning tool to help achieve that goal. Develop metrics that help monitor student progress. For students who need to read more, supplement the online readings with in class Socratic circles. For students who need to write more, set up goal-setting strategies like word production, or the number of claims and counter claims in a piece of writing. For students who need to collaborate more, set up a series of team-building, problem-solving tasks centered on the course subject matter. Lastly, for students who need to create more, arrange showings of their work and invite a real audience to judge it via an online polling tool. Students engage more when they know an audience will view their work. The audience can be peers, teachers, administrators, parents, or members of the community.

As districts experiment with blended learning staffing models in traditional brick and mortar schools, I suspect we will see the educational version of supply side economics revealed again and again. Students who have the support at home and the drive to persist will not experience difficulty in online classes; however, the students without this support and without this grit will not be helped by online courses. Teachers who are capable of building positive and productive relationships with students will become crucial in a blended learning environment.

Online Teacher Taxonomy

UCSD researchers have classified the types of in-person supports that teachers provided to students enrolled in online UC Scout courses. These seven roles are: (a) Humans as fixers/explainers of technology; (b) Humans as digesters of content; (c) Humans as explainers of content; (d) Humans as extenders of content, toward application; (e) Human as providers of feedback and assessment; (f) Humans as regulators of the learning experience; and (g) Human peers as supporters of the learning experience. Examples from each category are explained in great detail in the report. I offer a summary below.


Personally, I should note that I objected to the phrase “humans as” that the researchers used as a prefix to the classifications in the report. I understand they were interested in examining the human role in virtual learning, but the language usage of “human supports” was off-putting to me and caused me to stop reading the report several times. Perhaps “in-person supports” would be less distracting.

Humans as fixers/explainers of technology involves helping students overcome tech glitches, broken links, freezing videos or animations. These tasks most likely do not require the presence of a highly qualified, subject matter expert and could be done by a paraprofessional.

Humans as digesters of content is when teachers cherry pick online material from the course that may be particularly important to upcoming assessments or activities. This could encompass creating study guides that help the students navigate through the large body of course readings and independent practice modules. Most likely, a subject matter expert is required for this task.

Humans as explainers of content. The UC Scout courses explain key concepts mainly via online text sections, then sometimes they supplement these explanations with videos, and/or animations. Many students required in-person support to clarify components that were not fully comprehensible to them. Again, a subject matter expert is most likely required for this complex task.

Humans as extenders of content, toward application describes class and individual discussions of course concepts. UC Scout leaves this to the instructor’s discretion. Some teachers heavily supplement online material with face-to-face discussions, which students credit with helping them apply the concepts rather than simply defining them correctly on assessments. This also included hands-on labs for science courses, where teachers provided in-person support for “doing science.” It is unclear whether this role could be fulfilled by an experienced TA, or if it requires a subject matter expert.

Human as providers of feedback and assessment asks a teacher to monitor student progress, provide 1-1 help and small group instruction on fundamentals that students do not understand from the online curriculum. This role requires an in-person teacher to use the data from the course, but also develop relationships with students in order to greater assist them. This role is especially crucial for students who are repeating a class and may require more monitoring and coaching from a TA or teacher in class than other students who are making good progress in UC Scout’s self-paced instructional program. Again, it is unclear whether this role could be fulfilled by an experienced TA, or a subject matter expert, who can verify student comprehension, adjust assessments based on student progress, and offer highly individualized motivational support.

Humans as regulators of the learning experience can also mean regulators of student behavior. TAs expressed frustration with students who did not want to be enrolled in the class and did not try to complete the course work. This function may not be essential if online courses screen for student motivation and do not allow these students to enroll in online classes. In theory in-person regulation of the learning experience should be unnecessary as computers should monitor and support individual pacing. In this study, however, there was considerable variation in the courses over the amount of in person regulation was required to keep low-income students on task. It remains to be seen how essential this role will be as online education matures.

Human peers as supporters of the learning experience is a role that was revealed by student surveys. When allowed to work together, students regularly relied on peers for support before and after turning to the adult instructors. Therefore, peer support may be provided by fellow students, course TAs, family members and not require a highly qualified teacher.

I have found this overlooked report to be very helpful in helping me understand the pros and cons of UC Scout. The goal of the premade, UC-vetted courses may have been to increase access to AP and A-G courses for low-income students, but the results may be another opportunity for the educational rich to get richer. Students who are experienced in digital education, motivated, and have educational support structures already in place will have an advantage over low-income students. I wonder what unintended consequences will result from this well-intentioned program?

Equity Issues In Online Ed

A recent 84 page report from UCSD dives deep into a myriad of issues around the online courses offered by UC Scout. Particularly, its focus on the ability of online courses to level the playing field and the recasting of the roles of a teacher in online education should receive more attention. Low income students are unlikely to have access to A-G courses that count toward college. These students are also less likely to have sufficient numbers of AP or Honors courses offered to them. The report indicates that UC Scout, formerly UCCP, was created to remedy this situation.


Approximately 80,000 students enroll in the twenty-five A-G courses offered by UC Scout each year. Another program, UC Online, has received considerable criticism for failing to attract learners, only 1,700 students have enrolled in 14 classes (Asimov, 2013). After accounting for their $4.3 million dollar marketing budget, UC Online paid $2,529 apiece to attract each student willing to pony up $1,400 for an online course from UC.  Interestingly, a Coursera MOOC co-branded by UC Irvine has enrolled over 13,000 educators who want to learn The Foundations of Virtual Instruction.

There is skepticism in general about virtual, online, distance, hybrid, or blended education programs. Gary Miron and Jessica Urschel have done some interesting work researching virtual schooling. They report the on-time graduation rate for the virtual K12 schools is 49.1%, compared with a rate of 79.4% for the states in which K12 operates schools. Across grades 3-11, the K12 schools’ scores were between two and 11 percentage points below the state average in reading. In math, K12 students score, on average, between 14 and 36 percentage points lower than students in their host states, with the gap increasing dramatically for students in higher grades.

Alex Molnar also has some valuable insights on virtual schooling. Compared with conventional public schools, he found that full-time virtual schools serve relatively few Black and Hispanic students, students who are poor, and special education students. In addition, on the common metrics of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), state performance rankings, and graduation rates, full-time virtual schools lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

Considering these results, it is illogical to assume that UC Scout will become a robust engine for improving equity in public education and enroll considerable numbers of low-income students in A-G coursework, or for AP credit without providing additional incentives for using their product. A recent test guaranteed UC admission to students who passed a college level Math remediation MOOC, completion rates were much higher than average.

Another overlooked benefit hidden in this report may be that the researchers investigating UC Scout have been able to identify seven supports that online teachers offer to their students. As the online education market matures (remember your introductory economics class – markets undergoing perfect competition have their profits return to zero), this framework may result in a new taxonomy for online teacher-student interactions, present important new variables to consider in classroom observations, or teacher evaluations, and provide additional data that may justify differentiating compensation rates for online teacher specialists. My next post will examine these seven supports.

Virtual school churn rates reflect a concern that the online education marketplace has preyed on our weakest and most vulnerable students. Early data from MOOCs show that the students most likely to complete course requirements already have college degrees and full time employment (Hill, 2014). If the online educational market proves to be a case study of the educational rich getting richer, is it morally acceptable to invest additional public education monies into this sector? Drs. Burch and Good argue this point in an upcoming book called Equal Scrutiny. If this pattern continues, perhaps instead of peddling to credit deficient students, students with behavior problems, and homeschoolers, online schools should only target proficient, advanced, and GATE students in efforts to prove that their learning model is viable and worthy of replication?


The Teacher’s Role in Online Classes

Many low-income schools do not offer enough high quality Advanced Placement (AP) or A-G (college prep) courses required for students who wish to attend competitive universities. The University of California has offered credit for college prep online course for years, and is now enlarging their virtual learning offerings with a program called UC Scout.


These courses are designed to support independent students, however, UC requires that a local or remote teacher provide weekly assistance, monitor assignments, proctor final exams, and offer labs. In other words, UC regards the relationship between a teacher and student as so integral to learning that it won’t sell its content to schools or districts unwilling to pair online learning with a high touch human connection.

UCSD educational researchers examined the types of support in-person teachers provided to 200 low-income students enrolled in Scout courses at four high schools. They characterized the seven roles that emerged from this inquiry as (a) Humans as fixers/explainers of technology; (b) Humans as digesters of content; (c) Humans as explainers of content; (d) Humans as extenders of content, toward application; (e) Human as providers of feedback and assessment; (f) Humans as regulators of the learning experience; and (g) Human peers as supporters of the learning experience. These categories may evolve over time, but they offer an important first step in categorizing the taxonomy of teaching in this new milieu.

While previous posts have offered teachers data points and learning outcomes from my blended classroom to consider as they move their instruction toward a 1:1 model, this post is to encourage teachers making the transition from a traditional classroom approach to blended pedagogy to consider these labels as they recast their teaching style.

My next few posts will be devoted to analyzing how these new seven teacher roles will affect teachers influenced by behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist learning theories. It remains to be seen whether these new roles will give teachers additional opportunities to deepen their relationships with students, and create more positive interactions in their classrooms, or will the new roles create new barriers to educators looking to connect with their students?

I recently read a book called Evocative Coaching. It states there is minimal evidence that the teacher observation methods currently in place lead to any significant improvement in student achievement. Reduced resources and expanding expectations have teachers feeling disheartened, discouraged, and in a downward spiral. When a large organization is full of people who aren’t doing well, or having fun, something needs to change. We need to make two shifts in replacing teacher observations with evocative coaching: (1) move from evaluation to valuation; (2) move from problem-solving to strength-building. Ed Tech coaches, in particular, need to start conversations around these seven new teaching roles, and articulate a vision about how teachers in both traditional and online courses should recast their responsibilities.


Pollock, M., et al. (2014). Innovating toward equity with online courses: Testing the optimal blend of in-person human supports with low-income you and teachers in California. The Center for Research on Educational Equity. University of California San Diego. La Jolla, CA. Accessed at

Tschannen-Moran, Bob & Megan (2010) Evocative Coaching:  Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass

New Roles For Teachers


Petrilli (no relation) has recommended several approaches for realigning the teaching workforce to create productivity gains: 1) redefining the roles of classroom teachers to create a more productive and better paid workforce; 2) prioritizing salary over benefits to attract more aggressive workers; 3) paying for increased productivity by asking fewer people to do more work in order to get better results; 4) integrating online and “blended” education models into public schools. I have not heard of any districts using this advice. As educational leaders look to MOOCs for additional cost savings in public education, perhaps two other proposed efficiencies should be reconsidered.

Per pupil weighted formulas

Hill (2012) suggested federal, state, and local governments combine funds spent on K–12 education, divide it by enrollment, assign it as weighted fractions on a per pupil basis that will ensure sufficient equity, and then distribute those dollars to schools directly. This would force a significant reduction in expensive administrative structures, because money would not be held by centralized bureaucracies to preserve particular schools or programs, but would flow wherever students are educated. This type of revenue stream would help schools eliminate district and state barriers to innovation that are inherent multiple layers of management.

Zero-based budgeting

Jefferson (1995) proposed decentralizing educational budgets to allow the disbursement of funds aimed at maximizing student development. A strategy for decentralizing budgets is zero-based budgeting, which requires a full analysis of operating programs. Jones (2012) clarified that zero-based budgeting called for an intensive examination of all aspects of government programs and their effectiveness. Governor Nathan Deal required zero-based budgeting for 37 of Georgia’s Department of Education programs in its 2014 state budget. Most schools simply review the revenues and expenditures from the previous year with the understanding that everything is working. Zero-based budgeting requires that school leaders assess the best use of taxpayer’s dollars and allocate the money as if they were personally writing the checks.

Reporting administrative and business expenses via per unit costs, replacing restricted categorical funding “buckets” with per pupil funding and using zero-based budgeting methodologies to scrutinize legacy programs may have a profound effect on how schools make financial decisions. By streamlining funding sources and reducing restrictions on how funds are used, school governance structures may be able to more explicitly report spending trends, because there will be fewer categories of funds.

Largely absent from the discussion on MOOCs is reasoned debate on how schools can increase efficiency and productivity. Public education has already identified methods for reorganizing school districts and reducing costs by analyzing district business and administrative costs on a per unit basis. Bydistributing school revenues equitably, transparently, and in ways that allow schools flexibility with funds, decentralized school governance models could implement zero-based or per pupil budgeting at their school sites. While additional gains in teacher effectiveness may be realized by using technology to enhance productivity, the promise of realizing substantial savings from MOOC implementation in K12 pale in comparison to the suggestions listed here.


Hill, P. (2012). The costs of online learning. In Education Reform for the Digital Era (pp. 77-98). Eds. Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Daniela R. Fairchild. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Washington, D.C.

Jefferson, A. (1995). Decentralized budgeting: Getting the most out of disbursements of funds. Education Canada, 35(4), 33-35.

Jones, W.C., (2012) State’s zero-based budgeting program to focus on education. Morris News Service. Monday, June 11, 2012. Athens, GA.

Petrilli, M. (2012). How school districts can stretch the school dollar. Policy Brief. Accessed at