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Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education Hardcover – April 27, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0470442142 ISBN-10: 047044214X Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this follow up to the authors' Politics, Markets, and American Schools, Moe and Chubb "think of public education not as the current institution, but in terms of its vital responsibility," in which case "technology promises to be a very good thing." When focused on this thesis, the Hoover Institution associates (Moe is a political science professor, Chubb founded an education consulting group) make a consistently intriguing case-not just for computers in the classroom, but for a full-scale system revamp. Unfortunately, they spend much time blaming teachers and teachers' unions for standing in the way, and fail repeatedly to address the realities of teaching. Many of the authors' assumptions will strike elementary educators as plainly wrong; for example, the idea that "computer-based approaches... simply require far fewer teachers per student" ignores the fact that teenagers can rarely be counted on to do what they're asked. It's also highly unlikely that parental demand will bring about a merit pay system; any school teacher will tell you that parental disinterest or neglect is rampant. Finally, and most distressingly, Moe and Chubb seem oblivious to the challenges poverty presents. Unfortunately, shallow thinking and a seeming lack of real classroom experience short circuit an important topic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


In this engaging and highly assertive book, readers will learn a great deal about how technology can improve teaching -- and why the forces standing in the way are so difficult to overcome.
--From the National Review

The authors believe there exists a magic bullet capable of shattering the unions' political power and, bringing the sort of reform and excellence to U.S. K-12 education. The ammunition? Technology --From the Wall Street Journal

What I like best about the book is its acceptance of the unpredictability of educational innovation in the United States. Something big is going to happen. --From Jay Mathews, Washington Post

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047044214X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470442142
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,036,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Gunn on August 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I think the disparate reviews reflect the preconceived views that readers are bringing to the book.

To grossly simplify the current education debate, on one side you have supporters of teachers unions who believe they can incrementally improve K-12 education within its current structure of political control. This side tends to support greater funding, changes in curriculum, smaller class sizes etc... while opposing more fundamental reform. For this side, the largest problem with education is funding.

On the other side you have those that see the system as fundamentally broken, riddled with poor incentives for success. This side wants to find ways to radically increase competition and choice in the structure of schools. This side supports charter schools, school vouchers, performance linked pay, rewards for success and consequences for failure. For this side, the largest problem with K-12 education is the structure of K-12 public schools and the teachers' unions die hard opposition to real reform.

If you're in the second camp, you'll likely love this book. If you're firmly in the first camp, you'll likely disagree with it. If you're unsure and/or open to persuasion, this book might convince you of the potential for technology to deliver quality education outside of the structure of many of our failed public schools, rendering many of the old political wars over education irrelevant.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on June 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
American education both costs far too much, and achieves far too little. "Liberating Education" markets itself as a cure for both, but at this point credibly only offers progress on reducing costs. However, it also provides useful up-to-date data on how inadequate our education system continues to perform, reminding readers of the need for substantial change.

Moe and Chubb's focus is on communicating how online technology enables students anywhere to take any course they like, from the best instructors in the world, and to customise that learning to their own schedules, interests, and academic growth. Internet-supported learning also allows teachers more time to respond to student questions and work, and they can typically support 4-5 students doing so at a time. The teachers also have greater flexibility of hours, and can work part of the time at home. Meanwhile, administrators are much better able to objectively evaluate teachers and learning programs/textbooks. In 2006, nearly 750,000 pupils completed courses online. The authors then reinforce their points through examples from India and the U.S.

National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests have been used since 1969 to evaluate U.S. student progress. The authors summarize some of the data to compare performance of 12th graders from 1990-96 to 2005-07 in reading, science, and history. Reading performance fell from 37 to 34 (percentage achieving expected performance), science from 21 to 17, and history from 10 to 2. Mathematics comparisons were not possible due to changes in the test. Meanwhile, the high-school on-time graduation rate in 2003 was 70%, down from 72% in 1991. So much for more than doubling the inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending over the last three decades.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Anderson on June 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Rarely have I ever read a book so consistent with my own thinking on the same subject. Here, of course, the subject is the evolving role of online instruction in K-12 education.

Over the past six years I have worked in this same field as a small entrepreneur ([...]) developing business plans, services, etc. and I am amazed that I find nothing to criticize in "Liberating Learning."

But I would come across as too much of a sycophant if I could not offer just a little adverse commentary.

One of the chapters, entitled "The Politics of Blocking," could have been followed by a chapter on the strategies for unblocking. Sometimes battles that can't be won inside a bureaucracy can be won on private turf- much in the way Federal Express took on the Post Office. If private educational alternatives can be made sufficiently inexpensive, then they may gain market share and grow without much political interference. Thus I would be somewhat more optimistic than the authors regarding the time frame for overcoming the "inertia" in our educational systems.

I also believe that assessment systems may be the Achilles Tendon of public education. The corruption within most of them should be relatively easy to expose and publicize. That, in turn, may drive customers towards alternatives and/or put more political pressure on the public systems.

Maybe Moe & Chubb will write a sequel or second edition. That would be a good opportunity for them to extend the content of their excellent book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Scott McLeod on June 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover

Moe and Chubb's book can be summarized by two quotations from page 145:

1. "To the powers that be, innovations of true consequence are not attractive. They are threatening - and they need to be stopped, whatever advantages they might offer to children and the nation's education system. That is why, in state after state, what we see . . . [is] political action by the defenders of the system - mainly the unions - to defuse change and keep the system pretty much as it is."

2. "There is . . . something unique about technology that sets it apart from the other sources of education reform. It is a social force that is essentially out of control. No one is in charge of it. No one can really stop it."

Chapters 3 and 5 elaborate most fully on the first premise. Chapter 6 is where the authors explain most of their second premise. I agree with the authors' assertion that technology is "an exogenous social force that originates from outside the education system, is transforming nearly every aspect of American . . . life, and will keep transforming it in the decades ahead." (p. 151)

I liked the authors' discussions of both virtual schooling and data-informed teacher evaluation. I didn't always agree with what the authors said on these topics but they gave me much food for thought.

I also appreciated learning more about the two charter schools in Dayton, Ohio that the authors profiled. I'd like to learn more about those schools' day-to-day operations in order to get a better sense of the students' experience.

The authors gave me LOTS to think about in this book. Several of their perspectives on educational technology are ones to which I hadn't given much attention.
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