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For-profit cyber schools deserve skeptical review

Cross-posted from the blog of State Government Radio commentator Barlow Herget:

See if the pig is in the bag
By Barlow Herget

The idea of the Internet as the next big thing in education is an appealing vision.  There are ways now being tried in some schools in which computer programs and the Internet are designed to aid teachers in developing custom learning plans for individual students.

But the virtual schools that for-profit companies are pedaling to financially strapped North Carolina school boards are pigs in a poke.  The State Board of Education and its chairman Bill Harrison are correct to ask for a detailed review of such questionable sales.

The issue surfaced after the Cabarrus School Board was casting about to save money in these tight budget times.  Under the guise of a charter school, a North Carolina non-profit, NC Learns, sold the Cabarrus board a virtual school program operated by a for-profit company called K12.

The charter school expects to get over $18 million in public school funds, most of which will be paid to K12.  The N.C. Virtual Academy as it’s called, offers to teach 2,700 students from across the state.

Now, stop and think.

Does an on-line K through 12 school pass the common sense test?  Hardly.

How does the company teach elementary students on-line?  It boggles the mind to think that a young child will sit in front of a computer or operate a computer and learn as well as in a classroom with a live, trained teacher.

One report says teachers will be replaced by “coaches” otherwise known as parents.  Not a great idea for children with two working parents.

Yes, young children are adept in operating computers better than many older adults.  But K12 assumes that all students can afford computers that are compatible with its programs and are up-to-date with ever new Internet demands.

What about weekly if not daily Internet and computer glitches?  Computers today are reputed to have more computing power than those that sent astronauts to the Moon.  And the typical computer user today feels like he or she is on the Moon when the machine crashes or inexplicably malfunctions.

These are just the nuts and bolts questions.  There are much larger issues such as the traditional school’s role in teaching children to get along with others.  On that topic, how do virtual school students participate in athletics?  Wii games?   Recent research also reports that children’s brains go on auto-pilot when learning on-line.

The New York Times looked at K12 and found it lacking in student achievement.  The minimum that the state School Board should do is look into K12’s bag to see if the pig is in there and not just a sales squeal.

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