Recently, while working on my curriculum for this year, a commercial on television caught my attention. Preying upon fears that public schools are failing our children, an advertisement for an online school pitched it’s call to action: pull kids out of school and use digital schools to teach them through online courses.
Online public schools K-12 are growing and public school funds through our tax dollars are paying for it. One case in point is in Colorado where taxpayers will spend $100 million this year on online schools that are largely failing their elementary and high school students according to state education records and interviews. The money includes millions in tax dollars that are going to K-12 online schools for students who are no longer there.
The result: While online students fall further behind academically, their counterparts in the state’s traditional public schools are suffering too – because those schools must absorb former online students while the virtual schools and their parent companies get to keep the state funding.
And what about student learning? Anna Becknell, a sophomore online school student observed,“I don’t think it’s healthy for someone to stare at a computer screen for five hours straight,” she said. “I think the most difficult part about it was trying to keep yourself focused. It is definitely not for everyone, and I can’t wait to return to real school after being out a whole semester.”
Higher education has their version of cyber-schools. Dan Rather did a report recently on for-profit schools, many who offer mostly online education. He proceeded to take an in-depth look at the business of for-profit colleges. Schools like ITT Technical Institute, DeVry University and University of Phoenix differ from schools such as The University of Texas or Texas State University because they actually treat education as a business – teaching students while still turning a profit.
Online education is merely a symptom of a larger trend in higher education and another indication that liberal education has been devalued as a whole. Not only is the kind of personal contact and engagement that students get in face-to face classes at the heart of liberal education–in fact, academic leaders believe that face-to-face courses are seen as “far superior for student-to-student communications” and “student-to-student interactions” according to recent surveys. You can’t do a Socratic Seminar online, and things like that are exactly how students learn to think.
While most people may be aware that some colleges are for-profit, what they probably don’t know is that most of these profits come from the federal government. In fact, in 2012 ITT Tech reported revenue of 1.3 billion dollars – more than 1 billion of that came from the taxpayers. – See more at: http://www.axs.tv/press_articles/dan-rather-reports-investigates-the-dow…
There is a huge disparity in cost of tuition as well. a huge disparity in costs.The cost for the associate degree was $48,000. But the same degree at a regular community college averaged $9,000. And there is more. Students at for-profit colleges default on the Federal loans at twice the rate of those attending traditional colleges. They are responsible for half the Federal loan defaults while only making up 10% of the student body.
I think we can all agree that the schools of the future will look nothing like the classrooms of today. Technology continues to grow exponentially, and higher education is most likely the next bubble that will burst in much the same way as the housing market. What will public schools, charter schools, and higher education look like?
Saving public education is about fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Saving public education is about ensuring that teachers are well-prepared, are supported and have time to collaborate. Saving public education is about enabling them to teach an engaging curriculum that includes the arts. Saving our public schools is about ensuring that kids have access to support services to meet their needs. Current trends indicate that the mission to rescue and reform is not experiencing success, and it looks like the “push to privatize”could actually come to fruition in the next decade.
If we fight to retain quality public schools, it will bring back the joy of teaching and learning, which has been drained by years of harmful policies (NCLB). It’s the way to make every public school a place where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach, and children are engaged.
So are online schools and for-profit educational institutions the answer? It is uncertain what the future will bring, but these alternatives are not part of the solution. There is no substitute for classroom instruction, and a hybrid course or flipped classroom might be a better way to proceed. There are no shortcuts or simple answers, but go to school and learn to think, and with any luck, we can come up with some viable ways to problem solve these 21st century challenges.