Meridian Star

Columns

May 28, 2013

Move cautiously on virtual teaching

MERIDIAN — More and more parents choose to home school their children. National statistics show the number of home schooled children grows about seven percent each year.

    Likewise the number of students in charter schools continues to increase, growing about 12 percent each year.

    A growing number of states, 31 at last count, allow virtual public schools where students go to school full-time online.

    Many if not most of these alternative schools rely more and more on the Internet for teaching.

    Over 64 percent of homeschooling parents have said that they use technology on a daily basis when teaching their children. "The Internet is exploding with innovative new ways to help our kids learn,” says an Illinois proponent of virtual charter schools.

    So, while traditional public schools muddle around with Common Core transitions, teacher quality issues, etc., is online learning the way to go?

    Khan Academy is one of the more popular Internet education sites, reaching about 50 million students in 216 countries. It was initially created by Sal Khan as a math tutoring program.

    "I've used Khan Academy with my kids, and I'm amazed at the breadth of Sal's subject expertise and his ability to make complicated topics understandable," Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote in tribute to Khan being named one of Time's 100 most influential people of 2012.

    Khan says his mission is a simple one – a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

    With regard to traditional education Khan says, “The real problem is that the process is broken.”

    That’s what the proponents of home schools, charter schools, and virtual schools argue. And, they like what the Internet provides them.

    But critics of Khan Academy and other Internet programs say they are insufficient substitutes for classroom teaching and don’t teach higher level thinking skills.

    “The Internet and virtual classrooms are great resources, but children cannot learn with technology alone,” says a Florida tutoring program. “Part of the brain’s learning process involves the interaction with other people and hands-on learning activities to help it grasp the information.”

    “Khan Academy is not a substitute for an actual course of study in mathematics,” says math teach Robert Talbert, an education blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education. “It is not a substitute for a live teacher. And it is not a coherent curriculum of study that engages students at all the cognitive levels at which they need to be engaged.”

    Even Khan sounds cautious about moving totally to virtual teaching.

    “Teachers are super-duper important,” Khan said recently. He said the classroom is vital because teachers need to be on hand to see which students have mastered the material and can move on, and which students need more help.

Hmmm.

    Give our Legislature kudos for not authorizing virtual charter schools this year.

 

 

    Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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