Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Virtual Schools

Public education in Maine is undergoing some changes, and change isn't always for the better.  The transformation of education actually began 25 or more years ago, but the recent ones have become the scariest.  Although we're told the establishment of a virtual school will only make things better for our students, it will also be the beginning of the loss of what little control the local community still has over the education of it's young people.

If I understand the news stories I've read, then the Maine virtual schools will not be under the control of a local board of education, people elected by residents of communities to determine the directions of their schools.  Rather, the new concept has an out-of-state publishing corporation controlling the strings.

Yes, the articles say the Maine Department of Education will have some say, but that "not-for-profit" corporation will be determining the majority of curriculum and materials that will be studied.  Students will not be attending a school but will be doing their learning via a computer terminal which will probably be right in their own homes.

The virtual school will hire some teachers or facilitators which will meet with students periodically in locally leased offices, but the teacher load will make current student/teacher numbers look very pale.  Students will lose the social contact they have through schools and the contacts to help each other.  They will have their parents for help, but curriculum has changed so drastically over the last few years that many parents will know less than the students.

I happen to like computers and use mine daily.  But I do nothing on the computer that I could not do without it.  The computer makes tasks like writing and computation somewhat faster, but to have it do that, one must first understand concepts.

Take this attempt at writing, for example.  I do remember the days when I was in school, yes all the way through college, when to write I had to use a pen and paper or, as I got older, a typewriter to write things down.  After I completed a composition, I had to proof read it, which also required my knowledge of technical aspects, then, more often than not, rewrite the whole thing just to correct a mistake or two.

Writing this has had me make numerous corrections already, but the ease of fixing stuff with a computer makes the process easier.  My word processor does check my spelling and limited checking of my grammar, but it doesn't always find things like agreement, the use of phrases and clauses, well, just about anything connected with writing.  If it did, this might be more interesting.

But even computers aren't infallible.  Daily that is proven when one watches news on the TV.  Have you ever noticed all the mistakes that are made in those printed notes that are often included?  I never miss them.  The persons typing them either have adopted the "they know what I mean" attitude, don't care about accuracy, or just plain have no knowledge of spelling as a result of not being held accountable in school in recent years.

I think the lack of the social interaction in a virtual school is also a major problem with this new change.  Furthermore, as I've said many times here, the failure of many young people to do even simple math like making change is the result of other changes in our education.  (This paragraph is an example of what I'm saying here about writing.  Do you see the problem?)

But worse, perhaps, is the loss of local education control.  The cost of education is the biggest single expense in nearly all communities.  These virtual schools will be using our tax money with us having extremely little or absolutely no input on how that money will be used.

If you agree that our education has been changing over the years with less and less knowledge growth in our schools, just think how much it's going to change with the same publishing companies that supply us now get near, and eventually total control over our young people's education.

We need to study this change very carefully as well as study what we offer our young people.  Change isn't always good and this looks very much like simply passing the education problem elsewhere so we don't have to face it.  For those who will say, "But it will save us money thus tax dollars," I say, I've seen no proof we'll save a dime with Virtual Schools, and just how has all that spending we've been approving actually improved our students abilities?

I hope my community, which will host the virtual school, will fight it for the sake of our young people.


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