Streams

Online Learning? Choice, Yes. But a Good One?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 08:03 AM

Corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet. Sounds like a winning formula for transforming public education and achieving success in children with nontraditional means.

Not so much. As Stephanie Saul reports in The New York Times on Tuesday, there are serious questions about whether online schools "benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed."

After several months of reporting on K12, a publicly traded company that manages online learning programs, "a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards."

Yet the company, which brings in about $700 million a year, is thriving on Wall Street — as is the second-largest company, Connections Education, with revenue of about $190 million, which was bought this year by Pearson for $400 million.

The in-depth report cites criticism of the online programs by state officials who are providing enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars for the services, all in the theory of giving students more school choice.

Choice is the chief argument made in his company's behalf by Ronald J. Packard, chief executive of K12.

“Kids have been shackled to their brick-and-mortar school down the block for too long,” he says repeatedly, Ms. Saul reports.

But Thomas L. Seidenberger, superintendent of the East Penn School District in Pennsylvania, says: "It’s choice. What about a bad choice?"

Also in The Times, Jenny Anderson has a delightful article about the educational system of Finland — and Americans' obsession with it. She cites Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and author, who made the rounds in the United States recently to tout the Finnish model to various audiences interested in all things Finnish when it comes to schooling.

Ever since Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million that does not start formal education until age 7 and scorns homework and testing until well into the teenage years, scored at the top of a well-respected international test in 2001 in math, science and reading, it has been an object of fascination among American educators and policy makers.

Finlandophilia only picked up when the nation placed close to the top again in 2009, while the United States ranked 15th in reading, 19th in math and 27th in science.

The article points out the differences between Finnish and American culture and societies, which some critics find too profound to compare the two systems. But Linda Darling-Hammond, the Stanford University educator, said, "The fact that we have more race, ethnicity and economic heterogeneity, and we have this huge problem of poverty, should not mean we don’t want qualified teachers — the strategies become even more important.”

Definitely worth reading.

On Monday, both Gotham Schools and The Daily News reported that a judge overturned the unsatisfactory evaluation of a former teacher at the Bronx High School of Science.

And if you have not yet read the New York Magazine article on Bronx Science, you should. The principal, Valerie Reidy, opened her door to the reporter, Robert Kolker.

Gotham Schools also had an interesting post on Monday about the city's efforts to devise a system to evaluate more than a thousand itinerant teachers.

SchoolBook reported on Monday that a letter protesting the state's evaluation system now has more than 900 signatures of principals.

A more complete roundup of Tuesday's education stories can be found in Gotham Schools' Rise and Shine post.

In education on Tuesday in the city:

CORRECTION: THIS EVENT IS THURSDAY, DEC. 15: From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the New York City Parents Union will hold a meeting to discuss "changing N.Y.S. Education Law and the N.Y.C. School Governance Law (Mayoral Control) to give parents and communities real power to participate in decisions regarding school closings, truncations and co-locations proposed by the N.Y.C. Department of Education." The meeting will be at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street. You must R.S.V.P. by e-mail to admin@nycparentsunion.org or call (917) 340-8987.

The Manhattan Institute is holding a conference on teacher quality, with former Chancellor Joel I. Klein as the keynote speaker. The conference, to promote the latest book from the institute's Center for State and Local Leadership, focuses on a new book by the institute's senior fellow, Marcus Winters, "Teachers Matter: Rethinking How Public Schools Identify, Reward and Retain Great Educators” (Rowman & Littlefield, January 2012).

The conference runs from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Mr. Winters's presentation on his book from 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. The Manhattan Institute is at 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, Manhattan.

And on Tuesday on The Learning Network, this question for students: Do You Discuss Religion With Friends?, off a much e-mailed article, "Americans: Undecided About God?"

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