Home school, virtual schools, learning communities and success in education

I am happy to give an educational endeavor a plug when something right happens.  In todays’ Houston Chronicle there is an encouraging article.  The article is titled “A New Way to Learn”.  The story tells us about the Houston Independent School Districts Virtual School.   The article features a family with three children.  There are many others.  The virtual school is run by both the Houston Independent School District along with Connections Academy.  The following is the statement from Connections Academy from their website.  This is a new step in public education.  As I have said before the American public school is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet.  This is an admission that educating a child at home has advantages that cannot be duplicated in the public school.  My opinion.  I give full credit to HISD and other districts for recognizing the situation in which many public schools exist.   

Connections Academy provides a new form of free public school that students attend from home or another location outside a traditional classroom. This is a unique program that combines the strong parental involvement of home schooling, expertise and accountability, and a flexible learning environment. Connections Academy provides all the tools and support students need to learn in the non-classroom setting. We currently operate schools in many states.

Connections Academy does not charge tuition.  I should insert my disclamer here.  I have no connection of any sort to either HISD or Connections Academy.  I simply see this as a real move forward by a credible public school system that is trying to provide a viable alternative for students.  The school as it exists in Houston is called Texas Connections Academy. 

TCA is expected to serve 1000 students in grades 3 through 8.  The school is drawing students from other cities around the state.  The family featured in this article became very unhappy with what is happening in the schools their children attend.  One of the childrens teachers told the child he “wouldn’t amount to anything”.  Another child was forced to clean up urine in a school restroom.  I can vouch personally for the statement having heard classroom teachers say this many times about certain kids.  I’ve never seen a kid made to clean up human waste.  But, honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me. 

HISD is making money off this deal. 

HISD charter school coordinator LaMyrle Ituah said the district earns $7,826 a year from the state for each Connections Academy student — as long as the child completes the required courses and passes the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. HISD pays Connections Academy a smaller fee, $6,500 per child.

However, I don’t really have a problem with that in itself.  I hope the district will use the profit for student services, materials and other useful items. 

Here is what is important to me.  The children involved in this program will not be socialized to the standards of the public school.  They will not have to endure a bus ride with the menu of problems that exist on school buses.  Nor will they be at the hands of the individuals who do, in fact, tell kids that they are not going to amount to anything.  There are many, many fine teachers in the schools but I have personally observed some who have problems with kids.  They will be in the safety and comfort of their own homes where they will be able to get food, water and go to the restroom when they need to do so.  They will not be subjected to the many small humiliations that are found in the day to day workings of a public institution.  They will not be exposed to the lack of sanitation that exists in many school bathrooms and other facilities.  Nor will they come into contact with the infections that exist when thousands of people are confined in a small enclosed place.  Nor will they be exposed to the availability of drugs, the possibility of exposure to weapons or any of the myriad of other social ills that exist in our culture and our schools. 

This program will give so many students an opportunity to learn in peace, out of the way of the negative socialization, and other myriad problems that occur everyday in schools. 

Here is more evidence.  The New York Times has just published report published by SRI International that concludes that:

“On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

What an earth shaking fact.  Home schooling families have long contended that students do better in individual, family settings.  While most of the individuals studied were in adult programs the results are still fascinating in the implications for home schools where students can be out of the “village”.  The study found that students in virtual schools performed 9 percentage points better than students in face to face instruction.  My eyebrows raised when I read that the results are being reported by the Department of Education.

“The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

This indicates that online virtual schools or individual programs like home schools can provide a better fit for individual kids than classroom instruction.  The biggest growth presently is in various continuing education programs.  But, the implications for the education of children and young people are enormous.  The rapid growth of the use of computers and social networking systems will continue to aid students in helping each other. Learning communities are going to be formed between students that will allow students to give each other the real individual help needed to make rapid gains. 

This trend does anything but isolate kids.  Be ready for that criticism.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  All these programs will include forums, chat rooms, email and other means for students and teachers to communicate with each other in ways we do not yet imagine.  This is a band wagon I strongly encourage parents and students to jump on. 





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