Friday, August 20, 2010

Online K-12 Education

I am not really sure if this is just a new trend in Nevada, or if it is nationwide, but I have been hearing a lot of advertisements for K12, an online, tuition free, public education option.

I have mixed feelings about this.  From a political standpoint, I think it is great for two reasons.

First of all, I am all for improving the efficiency of any government programs, including public education.  Online education does not carry the expense of purchasing or maintaining a physical school facility.  This could lead to huge cost savings if and when this trend catches on on the large scale.

Second, I am all for parental choice in education.  Especially in a system increasingly controlled by Federal, rather than State or Local, regulations, benchmarks and policies, parents should have more say in how their children are educated.  Especially in Nevada, a state where many people are employed in the 24 hour gaming and tourism industries, this also has the potential to increase parental involvement in their children's education, since online education is not limited to a traditional daytime class schedule.

On a personal and social level, however, it is important to acknowledge that academic knowledge is only part of the educational experience.  Socialization, and the learning of social norms and skills that comes with it is another huge part.  There is an (in my humble opinion) alarming trend toward ignoring this aspect.  From eliminating recess and physical education, to starting online education, we are shying away from the social development aspects of traditional education, in favor of test results to get children into increasingly competitive higher education institutions, so that they can better compete in an increasingly competitive job market.  Through numerically-based Federal programs like the No Child Left Behind Act, we are leaving behind no individual children (at least on paper), but we are leaving behind the social development which schools bring.

Particularly as video games, cable televisions, and computers have taken children away from live, face to face (sometimes hand to hand) contact with other children, this is scary.  Add to this the realities of our era not being as safe as that in which we, or especially our parents grew up.  Gone are the days for most children of being left outside unattended on a summer afternoon to play with the neighborhood kids.

Test results may look good, but especially as our economy moves more and more away from production and into service industries, social interaction is important.  There is no standardized test which adequately measures or prepares for social interaction.  Practice, social gaffes, and yes, even fights, are how our youth learn what is and is not socially acceptable behavior.  This is what truly prepares them for interaction with customers and coworkers in the real world.  A college professor of mine once said, "Ten years from now, I doubt any of you will remember anything I taught you about Japanese politics.  This class is not really about Japanese politics, or what you learn about it.  It is about teaching you how to learn, and how to think."

The same goes for earlier phases of education.  School is not about learning multiplication tables.  It is about learning study, professional, and social skills which will allow students to prosper in adult life.  Online education fails students in this important regard.

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