29 March 2010

Is it Time for Online Education for Every Child?

Since the Internet hit the big time in the mid-1990s, Amazon and eBay have changed the way we shop, Google has revolutionized the way we find information, Facebook has superseded other ways to keep track of friends and iTunes has altered how we consume music. But kids remain stuck in analog schools. Part of the reason online education hasn't taken off is that powerful forces such as teachers unions -- which prefer to keep students in traditional classrooms under the supervision of their members -- are aligned against it. _WaPo

North American schools have been failing students for decades now -- losing focus on core educational needs and spending too much of limited time and resources on politically trendy quasi-indoctrination and social engineering. Meanwhile, increasingly incompetent graduates of the system feed into a growing societal incompetence and dysfunction. The society is rotten to the core, and the core institutions just keep producing a rotten product, unfit for modern times. What is the answer?

How do we know online education will work? Well, for one thing, it already does. Full-time virtual charter schools are operating in dozens of states. The Florida Virtual School, which offers for-credit online classes to any child enrolled in the state system, has 100,000 students. Teachers are available by phone or e-mail from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. The state cuts a funding check to the school only when students demonstrate that they have mastered the material, whether it takes them two months or two years. The program is one of the largest in the country. Kids who enroll in Advanced Placement courses -- 39 percent of whom are minority students -- score an average of 3.05 out of 5, compared with a state average of 2.49 for public school students.

In his book on online education, "Disrupting Class," Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen estimates that half of all high school courses in the United States will be consumed over the Internet by 2019. But we have a long way to go to reach 50 percent. Seventeen percent of high school students nationwide took an online course for school last year; another 12 percent took a class for self-study. Many of these students, along with younger kids taking online classes, might be considered homeschooled, though that very concept is changing as they sign up with virtual schools connected to state systems.

...While many remain skeptical, online educators say parents are more open to the idea than they used to be. Baltimore-based Connections Academy has an enrollment of 20,000 students in 14 states, providing a full educational package primarily outside a physical school. Chief executive Barbara Dreyer says that "questions like 'does this even work?' have died down."

But though the families of students enrolled in online programs rave about them, cultural resistance has been slow to fade. And winning hearts and minds isn't the only hurdle to widespread adoption: Virtual education remains essentially illegal in many states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Seat-time requirements -- which mandate that students' butts be in classroom chairs, often within the sightline of a qualified teacher, for a certain number of hours -- are a major barrier.

...Unions are right that virtual schools are competition. Oregon teachers unions, alarmed about declining enrollment in traditional schools, made fighting a Connections Academy charter school their top legislative priority last year, eventually forcing the legislature to cap enrollment in online schools and mandate face time with teachers, killing prospects for growth at one of the top-rated schools in the state. _WaPo

Contemporary government education in North America is so bad that millions of parents have taken their children out of the system altogether. Millions of other parents have moved their children to religious or secular private schools, in an attempt to escape the perpetual government dysfunction.
Bruce Hall's university model for high schools is one of the better ideas for reforming secondary schools on a bricks and mortar campus.

Charter schools are certainly better than the status quo, as well, on average. Teacher's unions are guilty of much of the destruction of the human capital of North America's last 2 generations, at least. The economic devastation felt in most US states and soon to be felt in some Canadian provinces is, at least partially, a direct result of the dumbing down of these generations in order to make them more politically correct and compliant with the dictates of governments. Charter schools that are able to slip out of the noose of teacher's union control at least have a chance to provide a real education.

If parents are able, it is probably best for children to be homeschooled for the first few years, at least. For some parents, online education may well facilitate quality homeschooling.

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Blogger SwampWoman said...

Two of my nieces took the classes through the Florida Virtual School and graduated. It is a good program. (Teacher) friends have their kids taking supplemental classes from the school; the kids are honors students and would succeed anywhere.

It, however, does not succeed with unmotivated students. If the kids are too lazy to actually produce work in class, they're too lazy to produce work online.

Monday, 29 March, 2010  
Blogger ee_ga said...

Anyone with small children should read about Maria Montessori and her early childhood education philosophy, it is scientifically based. I have also had the opportunity to see it in action having worked in a Montessori school. The children learn by doing, they learn to read by tracing the letters with their finger while pronouncing the sound each letter makes, then the children match words like cat with the picture of a cat to learn that letters represent real life things. Once that lesson is learned the children move up in complexity from there. The children also play number games to teach them their multiples. Most games are played with large beads so the children can see and feel that numerals represent a real thing. From there the children move on to pattern recognition, and simple science experiments. It is a simple teaching method and most supplies can be easily made or purchased, or for those with the means you can enroll your child in a school that uses the Montessori method.

Tuesday, 30 March, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

SW: Very true. Teachers have to find the ways children learn best. When that happens, they can almost teach themselves.

ee_ga: I like the idea of introducing children to concepts early, using the different senses including touch. Montessori is not the only one who took that approach, but it is fairly easy to find Montessori schools and / or Montessori materials.

I think the online approach will work particularly well for older children either taking required courses outside their emphasis, or taking extremely specialised courses where the number of humans with expertise to teach is quite limited.

Eventually, the main of core and general ed courses will be routinely taught via self-paced modules at most universities and some high schools.

Tuesday, 30 March, 2010  

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