Post 5.17 - Model Students

PBS Newshour recently aired a story about cyber schools and discussed some of the effects of this model on education. The issues are really very interesting, but I think the piece highlights the issues in each competing model for education. And given the profits quoted for the cyber school, it's clear that education can be done more economically.

However, I think the proper solution for all students lies somewhere in an amalgam of these models.

I know a lot of teachers, and they all struggle with students of varying calibers, with budgets, with supplies, and with curricula with respect to the time allotted. I know parents who home school, use cyber schools, use Montessori schools, and other parents who are constantly looking for ways to give their children the best possible education. If nothing else is evident, education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Different students thrive in different environments and with different methodologies.

My mother wanted to send me to a Montessori school, but this was not financially viable, so I went to public schools until college. I was segregated out with the "smart kids" into different classes for elementary and middle school, and then was offered options for advanced placement and honors high school courses. I was fortunate to have arts and music opportunities at all levels, and my high school had a policy of offering class options that would be scheduled formally if enough students wanted them, for electives like accounting, computer science (showing my age here), or stenography.

Now we're in a new age. We can think outside the box in how education is offered.

Here's what we know:
  1. Education funding is being cut across federal and state levels virtually all across the United States, while standards for education remain at largely the same level.
  2. Every time a student goes to a private school via a voucher program or other system, the public school loses even more money. As one superintendent pointed out in this piece, you can't close the school or classroom because you lost two students.
  3. Some students are simply not served by the current educational approach because they are either too advanced and work better on their own, or are at the other end of the spectrum and require extra help.
  4. Parents cannot always be as involved in the process as they would like or the school might like. The realities are that many households have two parents who work outside the home, or have only a single, working parent.
  5. Children continue to suffer from bullying and other social issues for which there is little support available. This has again fallen upon a burdened school system to address.
  6. Children in home schooling and cyber situations often have fewer opportunities for group activities such as team sports or school clubs.
It seems to me there are ways to combine the best offerings from the various models into a new approach. While I agree with the school superintendents in this piece that "the money [belongs] to the kids", the investment in research and development as well as other areas show that the money can be used in other ways to benefit the students and community.

So here's what I'd suggest.

Combine the cyber aspect into the public school system such that there would be different approaches available: traditional public schooling (in a building), cyber schooling utilizing public school teachers in the same classes and schedules (which gives home-based students a structure for classwork and other activities), mixed approaches offering both (morning cyber classes with afternoons on-site at school), accelerated cyber schooling (giving more advanced students greater flexibility), and independent study approaches. It could even be possible to offer night and weekend classes in additional electives, if the student were interested. And imagine a study hall where you could go online with a tutor for math or English from a laptop at your desk, whether on-site or at home.

If all of this is based out of the public schools, the school does not need to lose funding. Classrooms would not close their doors if 2-3 students were switched from the room to home. This also has the potential to avoid overcrowded classrooms, since a class could be split, if needed, to allow one teacher to engage home-based students while another engaged the on-site students. Additionally, the home-based student would have the ability to access school-sponsored activities such as after-school clubs, athletics, or possibly after-school music instruction.

It would also be necessary to apply the same standards for accountability in curriculum and progress. While you can't necessarily give a home-based student detention in the traditional sense, there would be the caveats attached that if progress in one environment is not optimal, another environment would need to be considered. In other words, no spending all day playing video games if the student doesn't have the self-discipline to complete their lessons.

Now, this isn't perfect. There would be considerations for school buses, for example, if a student were on a unique on-site schedule or wanted to participate in something after regular school hours after spending all day as a home-based student. We'd also need to get the technology into the classrooms and to all the home-based students, although many school districts are already pursuing ways to get laptops to every student. It also does not address those parents who home-school for religious reasons, which is a whole separate ball-of-wax.

But it seems to me there has to be a way to find a synergy between these various approaches such that schools, and most importantly, students are given the best possible options and opportunities.

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