There is a lot of dissatisfaction about the current state of public education in America and as a result, calls for reform. Many are unhappy with the amount and nature of testing and the general direction of industrial era curricula. Others have concerns about teacher effectiveness. Nearly everyone agrees that our kids are getting short-changed.
But what is being done about it? The feds seem to be steamrolling ahead with the same old same old. States are in crisis. Districts are busy covering their proverbial asses. Some of the best teachers are leaving education. Proponents of ed reform seem to be mostly engaged in hand wringing and name calling.
Charter schools and other fringe initiatives seem to have little chance to make a difference for the huge number of students moving through the K-12 system.
One opportunity for real reform is in online learning. There is broad consensus that online learning is going to be a dominant part of the educational experience for many students in the future. Most states have significant online learning programs. Online learning helps address teacher shortages, which are projected to worsen in the next few years. Blended learning is being written into everyone’s plans. Schools are finding more flexible options necessary, and students are demanding it.
But online learning can take many appearances. It can be a transformative learning environment with an emphasis on deeper learning, collaboration, and 21st century thinking skills. Or it can be the same industrial model of content cramming coverage, dull textbooks, and (online) lecturing heads.
These choices are being made right now as online course structure is being designed.
Equally important are the decisions about what role public K-12 schools are going to have in online education. Will they embrace the challenge to develop and facilitate enriching courses or will they cede that role to commercial providers in the way that has been done with textbooks?
To choose the latter path will mean lots of money being directed toward traditional, proprietary content that supports the status quo.
To choose the former will require plenty of creativity, energy, professional development, support, and more. But it just could be the path out of the current morass we’re in.