Information Literacy in an Era of “Backpack” Funding

This week, we read a great deal about the finances of digital and online education, from the cost effectiveness of implementing MOOCs in various postsecondary settings to the roadblocks of funding hybridized public and charter school programs.

As a former K-12 educator, I was particularly struck by one author’s proposal for promoting technological innovation in schools through the unbundling of school services and funds. Broadly, his idea is to alter funding systems so that the money follows the students, rather than the institutions, creating a sort of “backpack of funds” that could then be used to purchase various types of instruction and services throughout the educational life of a child.

While this sounds wonderful in terms of the scope of possibilities available, I find it problematic on two levels: it potentially perpetuates the advantages held by the wealthy in terms of educational options, and it requires a great deal more consumer literacy and/or fluency on the part of parents when choosing educational packages for their children.

Let me explain.

In terms of the wealth/opportunity/achievement gap, I worry that a system in which parents pick and choose options for their children would be biased towards those families that could afford better and/or additional options. Sounds a lot like our current system, right? If educational services were further unbundled, creating a sort of educational marketplace, would it be possible to use the money provided by the state as well as purchase additional packages out of one’s own pocket (thus creating advantage for the wealthiest to purchase the most in-demand/expensive options without sacrificing supplementary curriculum).

I just worry about any new system that doesn’t improve on existing issues of equity and access. Presumably any child could be educated by any school or instructor of their choice, but the attachment of price tags to public educational services is problematic to me.

I also worry about parents’ ability to choose the best educational packages for their children. Would there be a set curriculum that someone, somewhere, would oversee? Would there be a checklist of components for parents to follow? How would parents become informed and capable of evaluating various programs without training in educational methods (as well as marketing and advertising gimmicks?) I think such a system would require a whole new level of consumer and financial literacy in order for parents to make good choices, and while I think this could be reached eventually, at the outset this could be a huge problem. How would we teach this kind of literacy?

In addition to the problem of making good choices, there’s also the problem of continuity, especially if poor choices are made, and children are yanked from one program to another. I wonder what it would do to familiarity, comfort, motivation, or even achievement.

Just some thoughts on the readings – obviously not a comprehensive response, but a few items that bothered me. If you have ideas or clarifications on these issues, let me know!

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2 thoughts on “Information Literacy in an Era of “Backpack” Funding

  1. Lindsey, this article raised similar concerns for me. The author lumped “parents” into one category without considering the implications of putting educational decisions directly into parents’ hands. What about children living with guardians or family members other than their parents? What about children in the foster care system? And of course, as you mentioned, there is the clear issue that a system like this would reinforce the opportunity/achievement gap even for those children whose parents are dedicated to supporting their education.

    The entire tone of this article left me both disheartened and angered because its emphasis on finances and technology completely avoided the most important issue in education: how will this policy/system/innovation improve and support students’ learning? I felt that the author was operating on the assumption that access to more technology and a student-based financing system would automatically improve education. That’s a rather large assumption.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Right! The whole thing was very capitalist, and assumes that a market-driven education equals quality education, which, although it could come true, isn’t a given and it’s certainly not equitable. I really am not sure that marketplace and education belong in the same sentence.

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