Thursday, March 22, 2012

The folly of virtual schools

Simone Harris writes in her post No Public Education, No Democracy:

Online or virtual schools typically have high withdrawal rates, and that’s not surprising. It makes sense, doesn’t it? It must be very tempting to drop out of a “school” when there are no human beings there in person to make you feel connected to a real community, no gym, no playground, no student art on the walls, and no teacher to get to know you, to care, to see who you are and who you might one day become.
The bitter irony is that these online schools are marketed to English learners who need the exact opposite of isolation, who benefit most from cooperative strategies in natural, not virtual, settings.
Or they are preposterously promoted as beneficial to low income students as though it were a good thing to get education at a discount, off the rack. As Diane Ravitch warns of the educational dystopia that is fast gaining on reality, “the poor will get computers and the rich will get computers and teachers.”


  1. As someone who works in both environments--brick&mortar and virtual--I can attest to the fact that relationships are key. They are vital to anyone's success. Sadly, so far, even though good virtual schools spend enormous amounts of energy encouraging relationships between virtual students and teachers, there are still so many who easily disappear by dropping out. However, I see the dropouts at my b&m schools as well. Not at such high rates, but dropping out nonetheless. There are ways to make relationships in a virtual world, but it is something we (the adults) know and work towards, but they (the students) are not as aware of and may be one of the reasons they sign up for virtual schooling in the first place. I don't believe one arena is more right than the other. We need real, hard changes in both, but we can't simply continue working as we have been. It's ineffective. And the students are the losers.

  2. Thank you #readingafterbedtime ~ "relationships are key" I couldn't agree more. This unfortunately is just as true in brick and mortar as it is online. Joe has raised a good point in the marketing of online schools, the problem lies in the fact that often times it is the brick and mortar schools that are doing the marketing. Too many teachers today don't want to deal with the issue of At Risk and poverty in "their" class or building, so they are willing to shuffle that group of students off to online schools.

    Maybe if better relationships were being developed in their buildings, we wouldn't be seeing the number of withdrawals from online providers.

    I have always said if you want to get to the rigor, you have to start with the relationships first.

  3. We enrolled in online school after frustration with a b&m school. My oldest was easily distracted and very bored at school. The teacher would send home the same homework every week. My daughter didn't want to do it, and it wasn't because it was difficult. The online school was the answer to our prayers. The curriculum was from a private company and it was wonderful. My kids learned things they never would have learned in local district school. The Language Arts, Literature was outstanding, Math was a grade level and a half ahead of what they would have learned. They also learned History and Science on a regular basis. In local school, they would only learn some watered-down History on holidays and they call it Social Studies. My kids learned geography and history from Kindergarten. World history from 1st to 4th--more in depth than I got in high school. American History is taught 5th and 6th grade--in depth. Art course was like college Art History and Appreciation course, but it also taught application. My child who was old enough to take standardized test, got straight 100%s in Language Arts and mostly 100%s in Math. There's no doubt that online school is excellent education. But like anything, you get what you put into it. Our online charter school has at least one field trip each month. There are many playgroups, and of course, my kids didn't have to do homework, so they could play with the neighborhood kids (when their friends were done with their homework).

    I think the reason why it's much maligned is because the teachers of the online charter schools aren't unionized. Which I liked. I thought that was great. The teachers were so much more respectful of me than my kids unionized teachers were at local school.
    We actually withdrew from the online charter school recently. and our reason was because of the emphasis on test prep. For the charter school, is still a public school and is beholden to NCLB, CC, RTTT, or what have you. And we got to the point in "doing" the daily schedule, that we were doing the assignments to check 'em off, "get it done," rather than enjoy learning. I started to feel like I did when was coaxing my oldest to get her homework done, when she was in local school. I didn't like how local public school dictated to us our interactions after school. It just isn't fair. The teacher got to spend 7 hours with my daughter and then sent her home with homework. So we were doing the school's bidding in our home instead of family activities.

    We had crossed the Rubicon (a saying I learned while auditing my 2nd grade daughter's online school history about Julius Caesar--I had never learned that in high school, or college). My kindergartener reads at a 2nd grade level. My 3rd grader was doing 4th grade Math, and so on. No way could the local district school know what to do with my kids. And my kids was be disserved and bored after the wonderful curriculum they had learned in online school.

    Homeschool is our only choice. We can continue on the levels they are on. Online school at home is not home school. There is a big difference. The customization and flexibility was good with the online school (no way could a teacher with a classroom of 25 give my kids what they need). But my kids need even more flexibility. The great thing is, in our state, homeschoolers don't need to take standardized tests. Our state legislature unanimously passed a bill. Because they knew that stats that, overall, homeschoolers are on level, or above level. While public school stats are not as stellar.

    So we don't need to teach to test. We can enjoy learning, and not have to focus on "getting it done." We are not beholden to any standardization, but we have the standards in sight and are exceeding them, because we have the freedom to do so.

  4. Well, I've read Harris' article. It's very biased, and she doesn't get it. Online school is just another choice in education. It is a very modern choice. And people shouldn't knock it until they try it. When I was in school in the 1980s, a teacher told me that someday, we would have school through a computer. I thought was like the Jetsens. But that future is here. And it is a good thing. Autistic kids are doing well in the online school. Kids with ADD do well. My nephew was ignored by his teachers and they didn't teach him to read. His mom saw how well my kids were thriving and she enrolled her kids in online school. He can read now. And unlike district school, he can get into "regular" Language Arts classes soon. In district school, they would keep him in dumbbell classes forever. The online schools have been a blessing to many families. Why would Harris be upset about that if she really cares about the education of children? Same with Diane Ravitch. I've read many of her articles. She's definitely got a left-wing agenda. And sorry, I know she's 74 and well-respected, but she does take things out of context to fit her agenda. She like many others are against parents' choice in education. And that's wrong. That's unAmerican.

    Yes, we know that the NEA is against parent and children having a choice in education. One of their tenets is that parents are not capable of knowing what's best for their kids--especially in education. If anyone studies the history of public education in America, they would know that it's not a natural thing to say that parents aren't capable of making a choice for their kids. That only the school district authorities are qualified.

    My daughter would have been lost if she stayed at local district school. Not to mention the bullies. And the teachers did nothing about the bullies.

    Public school teachers say that Race to the Top is even worse than NCLB. So, why are the teachers' unions supporting Obama? Romney wants to bring control of education to a local level instead of a federal level. Wouldn't that be better? Think outside the box (or at least think for yourselves). Teachers can more easily deal with a governor than the bureaucracies in D.C. Of course, Romney wants to get rid of teachers' unions too (and so would millions of Americans). It's not right for public employees to collectively bargain. A union can collapse a private business. Even big progressive Franklin D. Roosevelt was against public employees having unions. He knew it would not be a good thing. I don't think that Romney will be able to get rid of teachers' unions. But I think that teachers will be able to get raises and such from state and county leaders without the help of the union.

    I sympathize with the conventional public school teachers. They get it on every side. Dealing with discipline of the students, dealing with politics of the school and unions, dealing with unions telling them left-wing things, while the Dept. of Education gives them incentives like NCLB, CC, and RTTT. Because our schools are failing. Everyone is trying to fix it, and the teachers' hands are tied.

    I'm the one who wrote the comment above. Since we're doing home school now, we don't have to personally deal with those problems in our family. But we do deal with them in society. Everyone's at fault. And everyone's trying to fix it, making it worse.

    Parents having the right to choose what they believe is the best education and situation for their own kids is something that will fix the education system. If a school's not good, we vote with our feet. And if teachers and unions don't like it, I'm sorry. Parents' choice focuses on the individual child. The public school system does not. And focusing on the child is the solution to the problem.


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