Blended Learning: A Paradigm Shift?

by Krista Sobel

Krista argues that Florida was the first to launch into online learning in any significant way with the Florida Virtual School (FLVS).  This is true.  It is also true that Florida had significant growing pains. In 2013, enrollment in the virtual school dropped 32 percent and funding reductions caused serious layoffs.  It seems that FLVS was allowing students enrolled full time in public schools to take multiple online courses at the same time.  They made a lot of money using that policy.  The legislature stepped in.  There must have been a quality gap somewhere.

Quality gaps of other online companies reached national attention as well. 

FLVS filed a 2014 lawsuit and won against K12 Inc., the mega online course management company, over copyright infringement.  The State of Florida filed a suit against K12 Inc. for falsifying teachers who were assigned to courses.  Many local districts countered the practice by negotiating their own online academies taught by local teachers.  The districts also kept the records of student progress.  They might purchase rights to online course content, or they may develop their own courses, but they control the process.

Problems with for-profit online companies are everywhere.  Politico published a series on the academic failure and profiteering of the online charter schools.   They may advertise blended learning experiences, but the reality is too often a computer or two in a corner.  What is clear is that citizens have a duty to be wary but an obligation to recognize the opportunities new technologies can bring.   Read Krista’s vision for change.

Continue reading

Constructive Committee Discussion

The House Committee on PK12 Quality held a thoughtful meeting.

State Rep. Matt Willhite asked “Could we do without school grading?”  “When we have school grades with continuous failing grades, are we benefiting the child telling them they are in a failing school?

Sen. Jake Rayburn R. Lithia, stated that whether you give an F or not, you have to figure out what to do with low performing schools.

Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R. The Villages asked ‘If there is any benefit (from testing)?  He said that the most frequent complaint he heard was about the stress and time taken away from other academic efforts at the schools.

The State School Superintendents requested a return to paper and pencil testing which take much less time to administer than testing in limited space computer labs.  Removing test scores from teacher evaluations would allow districts to develop their own assessment strategies.

Of course we need to test to see how children are learning.  It is a matter of how much testing is needed and how scores are used.  Hitting teachers, students, and schools over the head with school grades just makes everyone frustrated and destroys neighborhoods.

Missing from the discussion was the growing evidence that over the last 15 years of school choice, many neighborhoods have gone into a downward spiral, much like in Gainesville where four low income area schools used to have grades with A, B, and Cs.  Now one school is closed and the three remaining post Ds and Fs.  Teachers and students leave.  Socio economic data show that charters in the area do not take or keep the difficult problems.  It is hard to swallow but giving parents choice has created more problems than it has solved. The charters here fail more often than the public schools.

The bottom line is that folks want to make things better, but the stronger the focus is on schools rather than kids, the bigger the problem is.  Bad problems get worse.  Everyone blames everyone else.  Grading schools and teachers highlight problems but do not fix them.

Making schools more equal could help depending upon how it was done.  Now, the three struggling schools receive $1.5 million in federal funding to support extra time and wrap around services.  The money helps but does not eliminate the failing stigma. It does nothing for similar students who are dispersed in schools across the district.   Once we had an extra hour and summer school, funded by the State, to help children who start school behind and stay behind.  Once we had high quality early Head Start.  Once we had teachers who loved their schools.  Gone, all gone.  But, at least people are talking.

League Forum on Schools of the Future


The League of Women Voters invites you to join us in Gainesville on March 4th. We are celebrating the Schools of the Future with Peggy Brookins, CEO of the National Professional Teachers Certification organization.  She is on the President’s Commission on Education.  Peggy was a teacher and innovator in Florida for many years before joining the National Board.

Following her presentation will be a panel of educators who will respond to audience questions.  Panelists include the Deputy Superintendent, Teacher of the Year, elementary and secondary curriculum specialists and the head of the Alachua County Council of PTAs.

Continue reading

DeVos Confirmed: Split Vote in Florida

The telephone lines to D.C. were jammed with protest votes over the DeVos nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education.  In Florida, Senator Rubio voted yes and Senator Nelson voted no.  The U.S. Senate was tied and VP Pence broke the tie.

I saw a note about a one sentence bill to abolish the Department of Education.  It was filed by Rep. Thomas Massie RKY.  He thinks local parents and communities should control schools.  He may be right.

Continue reading

Choosing schools: What D.C. parents value

In a survey of parent choice, parents would be willing to transport their children to schools farther away if 50% (rather than 40%) of the students in a school were similar to their own. While schools close to home are ranked first, other factors enter into decisions according to a Mathematica review.  Districts respond but solutions are elusive.  The tale of Minneapolis is one such example.

 

 

 

Continue reading

Supreme Court Rejects FTC lawsuit

What did Florida’s Supreme Court decide?  It only decided not to decide.  The issue brought forward related to legal standing for the case.  The Supreme Court agreed with the Appeal and Circuit Court decisions that taxes owed by corporations could be diverted to private school scholarships.  In a way it is like saying that charitable contributions are tax deductible.

What the Court did not decide was whether or not the education these children receive is high quality.  The Court decided not to decide.

 

Continue reading

DeVos: Single Issue Candidate?

By now most people who care realize that Betsy DeVos has one issue:  parental choice.  To achieve that end, she supports state control over education policy.  In the New York Times analysis of her confirmation hearing, her knowledge of the law and education policy was non existent.  This is not surprising.  She has been a one horse pony in the private sector for vouchers and charter expansion.

The NY Times piece cites DeVos’ ignorance about special education law, regulation of for-profit universities, or even the difference between achievement gains and proficiency levels.  The answer to every question was:  leave it to the states.  Will Congress bow out?

Suppose the federal government did close down the Department of Education.  The federal government was not always involved in K12 education.  Its history is interesting.  Where would that lead?  State after state is cutting funding.  School districts and the private sector are supposed to find the money locally to manage the schools.

My grandmother taught in a country school.  So did my husband’s mother.  A few people got together, built a one room school and hired a teacher.  Will this approach raise our PISA scores?  It reminds me of an old time saying:  Watch out what you wish for. 

The Suspension Gap

“Fixing” struggling schools with a load of good intentions only goes so far.  Strong leaders have to figure out ways to get children to show up for school and find time, teachers, and learning strategies to help them.  School success is measured by student learning gains.  Achievement gaps between white and black, rich and poor students must be narrowed.  This is only one of the gaps leaders must close.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Talk to Little Children: Don’t dehumanize them

by Susan Bowles

This article was written in response to a Gainesville Sun commentary about pushing math skills on preschoolers to raise U.S. PISA scores.  Bowles is a kindergarten teacher who calls attention to the need for age appropriate teaching and learning strategies.  Simply pushing the mastery of high level skills on younger and younger children is ineffective and unfair.

Continue reading