An Orlando Sentinel story earlier this week reported that 11 percent of Florida students do not have home internet access. The Florida Association of Instructional Materials Association says the number is much higher at a staggering 33 percent. None of these realities kept Florida legislators – with the encouragement of Jeb Bush – from mandating that every Florida student must take one online course to graduate.
Florida’s neighbor to the north, Georgia, has taken an education reform path similar to that of Florida. But not so with online learning. No mandate exists in their bill. Atlanta Journal Constitution’s education writer, Maureen Downey, is glad but still understands why there’s reason to be skeptical of online learning.
And that was a good thing, given what I have been finding in talking to researchers and reading the research about online education.
I fear that uninformed investments in expanded online learning will lead Georgia down the same dead end that technology spending did 20 years ago. As a state, we wasted millions of dollars on impractical and unworkable technology because we allowed the vendors to tell us what schools needed.
School systems had computers they couldn’t operate. Stuff sat in boxes. Nothing connected. Lacking staff expertise, systems trusted the vendors, forgetting that their first allegiance was to profit margins.
Now, Georgia is at risk of wasting millions on online learning because the well-funded and marketing-savvy industry is telling us how great it is, how effective and how critical to the future. It has become the next best thing in education.
Georgia’s zeal for distance learning reminds me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a teenager who told me that he wanted the new iPad and planned to wait in line for it. Since he already owned an iPad, I asked the teen if the new model offered some innovation that he needed. He told me, “I don’t know what it does that’s different, but I know it’s better than what I’ve got.”
Things aren’t any different in Florida except that online education has a well-financed advocate in Jeb Bush. Among Bush’s major backers are Microsoft, K12 Inc, Intel, and others whom benefit from state tax dollars coming from online education mandates.
Downey also cautions:
The research emerging now shows that it does not work nearly as well for struggling students who require more direction, more personal attention and teachers who teach rather than facilitate or tutor.
Why research such as what Downey articulates continues to be ignored by policy-makers like Bush are not found to be troubling by those who listen to him. When coupled with the realization that so many Florida children are at a distinct disadvantage as a result of his policies, its becomes clear that an unprecedented level of willful blindness exists.