My daughter is immune deficient and has been an online high school student for about 2 years. I think the best and most cost effective solution to improving the American education system is to build a hybrid that blends the best online education has to offer in a public school setting.
Here’s how it could work:
Each student is provided a laptop computer to work off of and they independently study digital textbooks, watch podcasts on subjects they are studying and complete assignments, all within an online learning environment.
At first blush it doesn’t sound earth shattering but consider these net impacts:
The use of podcasting would allow the US Dept of Education (DOE) to hire the worlds best and brightest educators to deliver the curriculum because the person doesn’t need to be in each classroom to teach students. (Imagine Stephen Hawking podcasting a high school physics course.) Such a change in the delivery of material would allow the US DOE to establish uniformity in the quality of instructors and instruction being provided to all schools EVERYWHERE regardless of the communities financial health. On site teaching staff can then focus on the students who are struggling and need additional instruction.
An education hybrid of public and online education would also allow the US DOE to offer a huge variety of courses to ALL schools everywhere regardless of who is available in that geographic location to teach. As a public school student my daughter could choose from a couple foreign languages, as an online student in rural Minnesota she studied Mandarin Chinese.
Even more important, these courses are self paced, students can move through coursework as quickly as they like or they can take the the time they need. Unlike the current industrial model of education, a 9th grader could work well above grade level while remaining grouped among his or her peers, students could even graduate early and or start college from the very same classroom environment. This would mean that the best and the brightest in our country would no longer have to wait for average learners to catch up and it can all be done within the confines of a single classroom.
Individual schools could allow rural students the option of attending in person or online cutting the need for additional space and busing. Students with health problems, like my daughter, could still attend their local school by attending online when they are sick. School districts could eliminate the need for home-bound tutors, substitute teachers and even snow days.
Digital textbooks are cheaper to produce than standard textbooks and easier to update without mowing down a forest. They are also hyperlinked to dictionaries and wikipedia’s should students needs more information to grasp a given concept. Whereas a standard textbook might have offered a photo of an Egyptian tomb, in online schooling teachers can podcast an actual tour inside a tomb where students can pan the interior of the tomb right from their computer.
As as a parent of an online student I can log on and see the teachers grade books, I can see how my student scored on each assignment and I can see how much time she is spending studying each subject. This allows me as a parent a clearer view of daughter’s education and more importantly, her work habits.
The post-industrial model I’m suggesting also relieves the pressure on overburdened instructors and quells the issue of classroom size by allowing the human resources within our education system to concentrate on the areas they are most needed. Even better, this model would allow the US to deliver the highest, most uniform standard of education to learners everywhere regardless of how wealthy or impoverished their community. Equal education could truly mean equal quality and an equal opportunity regardless of geography and its highly likely we’d save money doing it.