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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Concerns about virtual high schools



Washington State has an online high school that is making the news.

While many schools now offer some online courses, the Insight School will be the first to allow students to graduate without ever setting foot in an actual classroom. The school plans to target a variety of students who might thrive in this type of program, such as home-schooled children, children with physical disabilities and those who have dropped out or had a hard time staying in traditional public schools.
It is great to have alternatives. I tend to think that the future of education is somewhere in the middle between a high school campus and a computer screen.

The bane of education is parents who do their children's work. These parents already have a high school (or college) education. They are well meaning but they are either compensating for a lower performing student or being manipulated.

We've all seen it, papers that could not have been written by an eighth grader, using words such as capitulate and manipulate, when the child cannot even spell cap and man correctly in person!

Yes, plaigarism may be a concern, but I think the greater concern is parentarism.

There are checks and balances placed on us teachers every day. In a world of standardized testing, we are literally "put to the test" each spring as children are tested into mindlessness for a week!

Who is going to ensure that these children are truly being educated? Who will verify the identity of the person doing the work?

Yes, this is an issue with wikis and blogs now. However, I feel that with a balance of in classroom work and out of classroom assignments, that work not done by the student is very easy to spot. (Or its even more obvious, as in the parent who called me two weeks a go and said, I needed to explain Web 2.0 to her so she could help her child with the wiki. I politely said ask your child.)

I personally think that two way video or some other authentication methodology is vital to such a virtual education. We also must not forget that much of life is about dealing with people. Offline support groups and organizations are important to supplement the video screen and provide students with social interaction.

On site testing at critical benchmarks during the year or some other form of assessment that ensures that the student actually understands the material.

Unfortunately, it is extremes such as this that make the news and sometimes cause problems for more moderate applications that would work.

We'll have to wait and see. I'm always for good education and believe that in a democracy that educational choice is a good thing. I hope this is virtual going to be a good education for children and not a way well-meaning parents can misuse the system.

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