What Do Free Market Ideas Have to Do With Blended Learning? Ask the Hume Foundation

The Jaquelin Hume Foundation, which made a name for itself pushing free market economics instruction into high schools starting in the 1970s and bankrolling anti-Communist insurgencies in the 1980s, has since turned its focus to more pedestrian matters in education such as blended learning and charter schools. As it moves forward with a spend-down strategy, Hume still gives generously to right-leaning organizations such as the Hoover Institute and the Heritage Foundation, as it's been doing for the past few decades.

But before we assume that conservative funders like Hume are one-trick ponies, we should investigate major contributions like its $5 million investment in 2013 to the Bay Area Learning Accelerator, a nonprofit that supports the use of blended learning in school districts across the country. They have also given to Carpe Diem, a collegiate high school in Yuma, Arizona that employs a full-scale blended learning model (along with mandated exercise breaks) as well as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning in Virginia.

Blended learning, for the newcomers here, is an educational approach that combines online learning with traditional classroom instruction by, you know, a human being. It's red-hot with a lot of folks right now, including many funders. 

You can see the appeal of this approach for conservative funders, who are always looking for ways to shift more power to the individual and move it away from government entities. (Even if they are content to let corporations run our lives.)

Based in the most unlikely place for a deeply right-wing outfit—the heart of downtown San Francisco—the Hume Foundation remains committed to a free enterprise system and has clearly given lots of thought to how these values can apply to education. A case in point is its contributions to entities like the Clayton M. Christensen Institute (formerly Innosight Institute). This newly-minted institute prioritizes disruptive innovation and blended learning as two of its key concepts.

Taken to its logical conclusion, such innovation and forms of learning open up the education sector to expansive competition among suppliers, service providers and even educators seeking to outdo each other on metaphorical battlefields of learning. It is a short leap from funding advocacy and lobbying organizations like the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council to plugging into more meat-and-potatoes issues in the education sector that have the potential to support a particular view of how the sector should operate.

The jury may still be out on this particular vision of the sector, but I'm left wondering how pedagogical shifts like blended learning, supported by the strangest of bedfellows, might actually positively impact kids in classrooms around the country.