The Education Establishment fights another losing cause | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Anne Blythe, writing for the News & Observer has an interesting story on the ongoing dispute between one school system in the state, Cabarrus County, and the rest of the school systems, the State Board of Education and essentially The Education Establishment in the state.

    The story is about a hearing held Monday (6-25-12) in Wake Superior Court on an appeal from a ruling by an Administrative Law Judge that the State Board of Education erred when it refused to consider the application for an online charter school to be virtually located in Cabarrus County. The school would offer courses over the internet, but would have no campus or buildings in which students attend.

    As usual it is about money.

    Eighty-nine of the state's 115 school systems have signed on to the suit. They don't want to have to give a per pupil share of the money they get for students who live in their county, but do not go to their schools, to this "virtual" school. Now get that...they would draw down money from the state for each student who enrolls in the N. C. Virtual Academy, but they don't want to pass that money along to the Academy. Never mind that these school systems would have no expense for these students.

    Click here to read the N&O story.

    Judge Abe Jones is making a mountain out of a molehill. The simple solution here is to allow the Virtual Academy to proceed and see how well it does. Give it a few years and then see if the students perform as well after graduating as those who sit in the traditional classrooms. If they do, then let the program expand and others join. If it does not, let the Legislature deal with it.

    It's called "innovation." Something the State Board is fond of when the Establishment gets the money. Just not when a competitor gets the money.

    I remember the same arguments when higher education began to tinker with the idea of "distance learning." Lord knows, you would have thought that a student sitting at home watching a lecture on a computer screen rather than sitting in a hard chair after driving a couple of hours each way after having worked all day was going to cause the sky to fall. Standards, don't you know. It would lower our academic standards.

    Well, long story short, no such thing happened. Not at all surprising to many of us, what we found out after "experimenting" with the idea for a few years was that where online courses had good teachers the students did as well or better than those who took the same classes sitting in a classroom in Greenville. Yep, that's right. How well the students did was determined by two variables: The quality of the students admitted, as measured by the Predicted Grade Point Average, and the quality of the teacher, whether as seen on a computer screen or in a classroom.

    When distance learning first started at ECU, the Rural Education Institute operated the program in five high schools in rural Eastern North Carolina. We used telephones lines (speaker phones) for two-way audio and internet for video that broadcast the teacher. This allowed students at Ocracoke, Mattamuskeet and other isolated schools to take courses (physics) they would otherwise never have had a chance to take. Then came satellite. That allowed two-way audio and video between the students assembled in a classroom at their regular school and a teacher sitting in Greenville. We were off to the races. The embryonic ECU School of Medicine picked up on the idea and started treating patients with "telemedicine" hookups. Today it is an accepted practice.

    Revolutionary? No, not really; except for those students who would otherwise have never been able to get an education they were able to get with the technology. But the sky did not fall on the Ivy Towers. Looking back twenty years later, about the most significant problem I now see was having sat through all those meetings arguing about how "academic standards" were going to be maintained. I still recall one of those meetings in which I suggested that we just give all the students, in both the distance learning classes and the on-campus classes, the same final exam each semester. Do I have to tell you what the results were? Ok, there was "no statistically significant difference." They all made A's in both sets of classes. And no meetings were held about how to keep "grade inflation" from devastating "academic standards."

    Bless us and save us.

    Delma Blinson writes the "Teacher's Desk" column for our friend in the local publishing business: The Beaufort Observer. His concentration is in the area of his expertise - the education of our youth. He is a former teacher, principal, superintendent and university professor.
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