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This headline from the Orlando Sentinel has created quite a buzz.
A new law in Florida makes it possible for parents of students to take their classes online instead of going to a school on a regular basis. Benefits are touted to be:
- parents have more control over the student learning;
- costs of education including building maintenance and construction go away;
- busing costs are reduced.
There is no doubt that the above list will be countable and verifiable.
There are a couple of caveats that have me really worried. Of course, there’s the always present lack of concern for the social growth of the child and interactions with others. That’s always been the knock when people talk about home schooling. Nothing will change here although one of the points mentioned in the article is that the child must take the entire year at home. Unlike online learning for secondary school students where they can take one of a slate of courses, everything has to done online.
I think that it is a simple solution that doesn’t honour the elementary school classroom. At least in the context that I’ve experienced in our own public schools. The best practitioners don’t operate by a bell, in a lock step manner. They are always looking for integration opportunities where language meets social studies; mathematics meets science; etc. to enrich the classroom experience.
Classroom materials and resources are carefully selected and purchased to meet educational and health and safety standards. A typical elementary classroom is full of stimulation from posters to water tables to computers to manipulatives of all sorts. It is true that much of this can be replicated online but it will be different.
I don’t know the context so am reserving my definitive opinion until I get more details. I know that my children enjoy the benefits of a publically funded education. They met new friends, enjoyed the diversity, participated in school intra and extra-mural sports, clubs, and even put some efforts into the development of an ecological area on the school site. Daily, I work with and see elementary school classrooms that are rich and vibrant with students working with each other and learning from each other.
Teachers are among the best that I can imagine. They attend professional development opportunities; they work collegially in professional learning communities in their schools; they have access to professionals for assistance when a child has difficulties and so much more. They get first hand information when curriculum expectations change. They have access to a wide variety of new resources.
Having said that, I’ve also seen the high quality that can come from online courses. It does offer alternatives for students who cannot attend the traditional classroom.
There are lots of things to consider in an initiative of this magnitude. It will be interesting to follow as it offers parents another opportunity.