Online Schools and Union Opposition

Anita MonCrief posted a link to a fascinating story from Reason Magazine about the rise of online education and the resistance and outright opposition from the NEA.

As we’ve moved into the 21st century, people in general and kids in particular have become much more comfortable with computers. My youngest daughter, at four years old, was able to reboot the computer into Linux, type in her user name and password and fire up gcompris and other games that she likes to play there. It only makes sense that education would be moving online.

The NEA hates the idea, of course.

The National Education Association, the country’s main teachers union, takes a hard line on virtual charters such as K12. “There also should be an absolute prohibition against the granting of charters for the purpose of home-schooling, including online charter schools that seek to provide home-schooling over the Internet,” says the organization’s official policy statement on charter schools. “Charter schools whose students are in fact home schoolers, and who may rarely if ever convene in an actual school building, disregard the important socialization aspect of public education, do not serve the public purpose of promoting a sense of community, and lend themselves too easily to the misuse of public funds and the abuse of public trust.” But analog unions can’t stave off online education for digital natives forever, and state-run virtual academies like FLVS—rather than virtual charters like K12—make it easier to control the pace of change.

Ah, yes. The tired call for “socialization.” Take a look at the Hellmouth series of posts from Slashdot just after the Columbine High School shootings. (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) Read all of them, then let’s talk about socialization.

In the days after the Littleton, Colorado massacre on April 20, 1999, the country went on a panicked hunt for the oddballs in high school, a profoundly ignorant and unthinking response to a tragedy that left geeks, nerds, non-conformists and the alienated in an even worse situation than they were before. Stories emerged from all over the country about these witch-hunts, which amounted to little more than Geek Profiling. These voiceless kids-invisible in media and on TV talk shows and powerless in their own schools-have been e-mailing me with stories of what has happened to them in the past few days. What follows are some of those stories in their own words, with my gratitude and admiration for the courage it took in sending them. The big story out of Littleton isn’t about violence on the Internet; it isn’t about video games turning our kids into killers. It’s about the fact that for some of the best, brightest and most interesting school kids, high school is a nightmare of exclusion, cruelty, loneliness, warped values and rage. In short, high school is the Hellmouth.

People who are different are reviled as geeks, nerds, and dorks. The lucky ones are excluded; the unfortunate ones are harassed, humiliated and sometimes assaulted literally as well as socially. Odd values — unthinking school spirit, proms, and jocks — are exalted, while the best values — free thinking, non-conformity, and curiosity — are ridiculed. Maybe the one positive legacy the Trench coat Mafia left was to ensure that this message be heard by a society that seems desperate not to hear it.

My experience with high school wasn’t much different than many of the stories shared in that series. Now, many schools are practically prisons where students leave their rights at the door. The bullying still happens and many schools also play host to drug dealers and gangs. How does that type of socialization help kids? It’s certainly not the type of socialization I want my kids to experience.

Even more that the good old days of the late 1990’s, kids are socializing to a greater degree outside of school. Much of it has moved online but kids tend to be more involved activities outside of the typical school day. As an example, my kids have church activities, scouts, dance, Taekwondo plus random meet-ups with their friends. I think we have one day a week where we don’t have kids doing something. Socialization isn’t limited to schools and it’s about time the NEA learns that.

The Reason article sites cases in Wisconsin, Oregon and Indiana where the NEA has actively worked to gut online programs. In Colorado, the laws were written so that home-schooled students couldn’t go directly from a home program into an online program. They had to spend a year in a public school first. Fortunately, that has changed.

But online programs aren’t just a boon for home-schooled or troubled kids. Some schools are looking a hybrid approach that combines online learning with a communal setting.

One promising idea is a hybrid approach, where kids get the socialization and adult supervision of a shared physical space but consume much of their actual instruction online. Of the million kids already taking classes online, some are just logging in from their bedrooms, but others are taking courses on computers in community centers or gyms or heading out to the strip-mall outposts of private tutoring companies.

One of the greatest benefits of online programs, whether done at home or in a classroom, is the ability to allow students to progress through subjects at different rates. I’ve talked about this before. By changing from the current grade level paradigm into one based on subject level, schools can help kids achieve is ways that the current system doesn’t allow. Online schools make it possible.

There are too many reasons to encourage online schools and too few reasons to oppose them. It’s well past time to take advantage of the technology that exists today and use it to improve the education our children are getting.

Originally posted at PerlStalker’s Ramblings.