The K-12 Online Education Revolution
By Evan Jones
When the public school K-12 classroom system was established, it was the most efficient way to educate children – complete with three months off during summer to tend the crops. But how truly “efficient” were the traditional methods? In 1900, only 8% of Americans graduated from high school. Between 1910 and 1919 only half had an 8th-grade education and only 35% of 17-year olds were even enrolled in high school.1
They didn’t have to be efficient: In those days, one could get a job without a high school education. That simply is no longer true. Every American is expected to have at least a high-school diploma or GED, and even that isn’t sufficient for most better paying jobs. This has placed severe strains on the system. With the “Great Recession,” state budgetary constraints are approaching the crisis level. There simply isn’t any more money for the expansion of education, and there is a shortage of qualified teachers (especially in math and science).
As Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia tartly observed, “Simply put, the current process and infrastructure for educating students in this country cannot sustain itself any longer.”2 Fortunately, a far more powerful tool is available today: the Internet. Online education may be the key to solving the K-12 crisis. Gov. Wise is a strong proponent of online K-12 programs.
Blackboard Jungle: Inherent Challenges of Traditional Education
In a traditional school setting, the teacher must set one pace for an entire class. Students travel to the school, and learning is school-centered rather than student-centered.
This leaves a significant portion of any class either bored or outpaced. That is a recipe for trouble: bored students may act out and be labeled “troublemakers”. Others are deemed “slow”, even if they have superior knowledge retention. It’s about as efficient as trying to fit all the students in class with the same sized shoes. As a result, success can be limited to the mainstream and the brightest.
Then there is the “neighborhood” issue, wherein some geographic/demographic areas have better schools than others. It may even be impossible for many families to move into some communities because of the huge property taxes, much of which is channeled into the local “public” school. There are also families which move frequently (e.g., members of the military), and jumping from school to school makes things much more difficult for a student.
Last, but not least, even the best of the traditional schools have a limited curriculum. There is even greater restriction on Advanced Placement courses, both in terms of scope and physical capacity.
1 Lou Ann Sears, A Short History of United States’ Education 1900 to 2006, History of Reading News, p. 1 http://www.historyliteracy.org/download/Sears2.pdf
2 Gov. Bob Wise, assistance from Robert Rothman, The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education, Alliance for Excellent Education, Jun. 2010, p. 1 http://www.all4ed.org/files/OnlineLearning.pdf