Online high schools are a disaster. In a letter published in Education Week, the director of education giving at the Walton Family Foundation found that “...over the course of a school year, the students in virtual charters learned the equivalent of 180 fewer days in math and 72 fewer days in reading than their peers in traditional charter schools, on average. This is stark evidence that most online charters have a negative impact on students' academic achievement. The results are particularly significant because of the reach and scope of online charters: They currently enroll some 200,000 children in 200 schools operating across 26 states. If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth-largest in the country and among the worst-performing.”
This is particularly condemning since the Walton Foundation is “the largest private funder of charter schools.” They go on to caution: “As states think about the future of online education, they should rethink their expectations and policies.... Funders, educators, policymakers, and parents cannot in good conscience ignore the fact that students are falling a full year behind their peers in math and nearly half a school year in reading, annually. For operators and authorizers of these schools to do nothing would constitute nothing short of educational malpractice.”
As the ineffectiveness of online education is recognized on a far wider scale by employers as graduates of for-profit online operations fail to perform in the workplace, the Techno-Educational Complex has pivoted to another claim for computerized education: “personalized instruction.”
Any veteran teacher recognizes this digital reincarnation of the “individualized instruction” movement from the 1970s. It failed then for reasons that it will again fail today, but only after we spend huge sums for computers and after another generation of students fall behind, just as in the virtual high schools described above.
“Personalized instruction” resurrects the old 1970s programmed learning but uses computers to take students on lonely journeys through academic subjects, responding to variations in their learning speed. Unlike a class where most students are learning together, each student taps away alone on a keyboard following machine-based instruction. Similar to the virtual school, teachers and classmates are irrelevant.
But any good teacher knows that teachers and classmates are not irrelevant, but critical supports to most students’ education. For instance, if you are showing a video clip to a sequence of classes, you stay in the classroom and watch it all the way through with each class. To step out because you have seen it many times before sends the message to the students that they don’t need to watch it either. Bottomline: the teacher and the students are in a journey together and good instruction depends on everyone being “in the moment” of the lesson.
And when one student does not understand what the teacher just said, a classmate can explain it to them in alternative student-level words. Similar to everyone watching a ball game or parade, everyone is in the spirit of learning as a group. Each of us grew as students even on our worst days because we gained strength from the whole class moving ahead together.
And our teacher knew us and celebrated with us as we came to know and do things we did not know that we could do. Because of what our teachers taught us to become, years later when we write or speak well, we can think how our writing or speech teacher would be proud of us.
But when we learn on our own from reading a book or watching a video, we never think that the book author or screen performer would be proud of what we learned. They never “knew” us.
Nor does that so-called “personalized instruction computer” actually “know us.” Computer algorithms do not a teacher make.
But “personalized instruction” is the current educational moment. It is purposely marketed by ed-tech companies that want to continue sucking huge sums of money from our school budgets.
It will not improve student learning.
But it will make technology companies a lot of money.