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Neighborhood Internet Schools: The Wave of the Future?
posted by: Alix | August 15, 2012, 10:07 PM   

Dr. David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale University, recently penned an opinion editorial about expanding online education options for students across the country. He contends that big problems in education call for big solutions. By leveraging the power of the internet, all students could potentially attend emerging "Neighborhood Internet Schools." These one-classroom schools would serve students of all grades and account for all subjects through online content and parental support.

He writes in The Wall Street Journal, "Local Internet schools are a promising way to mobilize existing talent. Much infrastructure is required that doesn't exist. But the parts are all spread out on the table. All we need is to fit them together properly."

Dr. Gelernter argues that simple technology and parental involvement can transform education:

We have big problems with our schools—and need new ideas about how to fix them. Deep changes are needed in our attitude toward teaching, leading education scholar Diane Ravitch wrote recently in the New York Review of Books. We need smarter, better-educated recruits to the profession. We need to value a teacher's experience properly and discard the thought that idealistic college graduates with no experience make brilliant teachers automatically.

Fair enough. But we need other solutions too. We need plans that make direct use of our biggest assets: parental anger, and people's selfish but reasonable willingness to give some time to improve their own children's education now, versus someone else's in 20 years.

Local Internet schools are a promising way to mobilize existing talent. Much infrastructure is required that doesn't exist. But the parts are all spread out on the table. All we need is to fit them together properly.

Is there a problem? "We have to see this as a wake-up call," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded to the latest international survey of 15-year-olds in 2010. "We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we're being out-educated." Of course this was only the latest wake-up call. We slept through the first 30 years' worth of ringers and buzzers and alarms, starting with the devastating report "A Nation At Risk," commissioned by the Reagan administration in 1983. And as matters stands, our plans are to go on sleeping.

Click here to read more.

What do you think about Dr. Gelernter's idea? Do you support online learning?
Comment below.

Comments (1)Add Comment
I'm on board
written by Kevin Crosby, August 19, 2012

I have long argued that neighborhood "Learning Centers" could supplant the factory model in typical public schools. Online sources would simplify the process for several reasons. First, neighborhood learning centers could sidestep NCLB's "highly qualified" rule by tapping into existing online systems that themselves provide so-called "highly qualified" support. A neighborhood learning center could facilitate the learning of, say, fifty students with just two teachers, one who is strong in the humanities, and one who is strong in STEM. Who wants to partner with me?

The neighborhood learning center would be superior to "traditional" online programs because the physical building would allow for learning beyond that which is suitable for strictly online programming. Cooperative learning, MESA, Destination Imagination, labs, even intramural sports between neighborhood teams all become possible.

When I look at the way my school uses data, well, it makes me sad. How can we look at the data and conclude that all students of a given age should be studying the same standards at the same time and at the same rate? Under such a system, differentiation only scratches the surface when it comes to meeting the needs of those on either end of the old bell curve. Pacing guides pander by necessity to the lowest common denominator. That, or the classroom leaves the struggling student in the dust of confusion. Meanwhile, faster learners have to wait, or if they are lucky they get to compact or engage in some enrichment while the rest of the class plods along.

Learning centers could take proper advantage of student and parent enthusiasm while providing flexible hours. It's about meeting standards, not about seat time, anyway, right? Plus, students could pursue their interests and areas of aptitude (in addition to the basics tested by the state), unlike my school where for years now students who were below proficiency in reading or math have been denied electives and placed in "intervention" courses.

No, it's way past time we dismantle the factory model of education, and perhaps the best way to do so is by starting with architecture, both physical and virtual.

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