Category Archives: Alternative education

Virtual schools continue to draw controversy – and government dollars

Last April, I posted about a New York Times article which described growing controversy surrounding Web-based distance education in K-12. Now, the Washington Post has profiled one particular company, K12, Inc., that has become “the country’s largest provider of full-time public virtual schools.”

Conceived as a way to teach a small segment of home-schoolers and others who needed flexible schooling, virtual education has evolved into an alternative to traditional public schools for an increasingly wide range of students — high achievers, strugglers, dropouts, teenage parents and victims of bullying, among them…

It’s an appealing proposition, and one that has attracted support in state legislatures, including Virginia’s. But in one of the most hard-fought quarters of public policy, a rising chorus of critics argue that full-time virtual learning doesn’t effectively educate children…

People on both sides agree that the structure providing public education is not designed to handle virtual schools. How, for example, do you pay for a school that floats in cyberspace when education funding formulas are rooted in the geography of property taxes? How do you oversee the quality of a virtual education?

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Thousands of students transfer to private schools as Indiana implements nation’s most extensive voucher program

The Associated Press (via St. Louis Today) reports:

Weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were only recently on the brink of closing for lack of pupils.

It’s a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools. Opponents say the practice violates the separation of church and state.

May 20 K-12 news round-up

  • “At a Denver area elementary school, students are organized into classes in an unconventional manner — they are arranged by what they know, not their age or mandatory grade level.” [CNN, via the Huffington Post]
  • ABC News reports that Florida high school principal George Kenney has been placed on administrative leave after a student Kenney hypnotized committed suicide.
  • In a cost-cutting move, the Los Angeles Unified School District is individually interrogating librarians to determine if they actually have a teaching function and hence are eligible for employment protections afforded to educators but not, LAUSD argues, to librarians. [L.A. Times]
  • “Our public schools are woefully unprepared to deal with the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. Only 17% of Hispanic fourth-graders score proficient or better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress while 42% of non-Hispanic white students do. Nationally, the high school graduation rate for Hispanics is just 64%, and only 7% of incoming college students are Hispanic, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.” [TIME Magazine]
  • T.H.E. Journal reports on “six technologies that will change education.” Among these technologies are open resources and cloud computing.
  • The Huffington Post examines efforts across the U.S. to redefine teacher tenure – and, in some cases, to eliminate it completely.

Billionaires’ investments in K-12 bring mixed results

Newsweek reports:

[There has been] a decade-long campaign to improve test scores and graduation rates, waged by a loose alliance of wealthy CEOs who arrived with no particular background in education policy—a fact that has led critics to dismiss them as “the billionaire boys’ club.” Their bets on poor urban schools have been as big as their egos and their bank accounts. Microsoft chairman [Bill] Gates, computer magnate Michael Dell, investor Eli Broad, and the Walton family of Walmart fame have collectively poured some $4.4 billion into school reform in the past decade through their private foundations.

Has this big money made the big impact that they—as well as teachers, administrators, parents, and students—hoped for? In the first-of-its-kind analysis of the billionaires’ efforts, NEWSWEEK and the Center for Public Integrity crunched the numbers on graduation rates and test scores in 10 major urban districts—from New York City to Oakland—which got windfalls from these four top philanthropists.

The results, though mixed, are dispiriting proof that money alone can’t repair the desperate state of urban education. For all the millions spent on reforms, nine of the 10 school districts studied substantially trailed their state’s proficiency and graduation rates—often by 10 points or more.

New report identifies six models of ‘blended learning’ in K-12

Despite much talk in the popular media and among politicians and policymakers about “e-learning” or distance education, the reality is that most students in K-12 seldom experience true distance education, which is when learning interactions are entirely mediated by information and communications technology. The more typical experience is blended learning, which combines elements of both traditional face-to-face classroom-based learning with e-learning.

THE Journal reports:

A report released this week identified six emerging models for blended learning in K-12…

The report [was] authored by the Innosight Institute, a research firm focused on education and healthcare, and co-produced with the Charter School Growth Fund, a group that invests in charter school management organizations…

The six models identified in the report included:

  1. Face-to-face driver: a teacher in a traditional classroom instructional setting employs online learning for remediation or supplemental instruction;
  2. Rotation: students move back and forth between online and classroom instruction;
  3. Flex: the curriculum is delivered primarily through an online platform, with teachers providing onsite support;
  4. Online lab: an online course is delivered in a physical classroom or computer lab;
  5. Self-blend: students choose on their own which courses they take online to supplement their schools’ offerings; and
  6. Online driver: courses are primarily online and physical facilities are used only for extracurricular activities, required check-ins, or similar functions.

The full report is available here (PDF).

“Fresh Air” guests debate accountability and No Child Left Behind

Today’s episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” focused on school accountability and the No Child Left Behind Act. NYU education professor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch was interviewed during Part I of the show; Ravitch was once an NCLB supporter who has now become a skeptic of many aspects of the accountability movement as it currently exists. Consultant Andrew Rotherham was interviewed during Part II of the show; Rotherham supports charter schools and other aspects of the accountability movement.

Salman Khan attempts to “reinvent education”

During the course of tutoring his young cousins in math, former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan began posting instructional videos on YouTube in 2004. He has subsequently created an online repository of thousands of videos. In this TED Conference presentation:

Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do “homework” in the classroom with the teacher available to help.