Education: Man vs. Machine

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

In what may be a sad commentary on the state of public education, research shows real-live instructors in a dead heat with computers for the hearts and minds of students. “Studies show that online instruction is as effective as face-to-face learning,” John Chubb of the Education Sector said at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on April 19, 2012. Chubb was formerly a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“The traditional school model spends over half of its budget on labor, with the majority of the remainder allocated to school operations,” Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Haldeman and Eleanor Laurans found in a study commissioned by the Fordham Institute. “A blended model, by comparison, has the potential to save approximately $1,100 per student (11 percent).”

“By significantly reducing school-operations costs, a virtual school can potentially save approximately $3,600 per student, a savings of more than a third over a traditional school.”

For example, the team of researchers from the Parthenon Group discovered that:

The “Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is the nation’s first statewide, online public high school and currently offers options across all grade levels for both full-time and part-time students,” Battaglino and company found. “Instruction takes place online; students select their courses and then complete assignments, quizzes, and tests at their own pace. Homeschooled students in and out of Florida can take online courses; Florida Virtual has also partnered with many school districts nationwide to provide online supplemental options for students. The school, for instance, offers more than a dozen online AP courses for high school juniors and seniors.”

Even more remarkably, online education is providing some of the few bright spots in the Golden State’s otherwise tarnished public school system. “Rocketship Education is a California-based charter school network focused on parent empowerment, teacher development, and individualized learning,” Battaglino and the team of researchers from the Parthenon Group report. “Rocketship combines traditional classroom teaching with individualized instruction through its ‘Learning Lab,’ in which students spend one-on-one time on computers utilizing adaptive educational programs and receive instruction in intensive tutor-led small groups to master basic reading and math skills. The Rocketship model generates approximately $500,000 annually in cost savings per school of 450 students, which can then be reallocated toward higher teacher salaries and professional development, among other things. Rocketship schools are able to operate sustainably on traditional public school funding and without additional philanthropic funds.”

Nor is Rocketship alone in these accomplishments. “At Flex Academy, a full-time California-based blended school using the K 12 Inc. curriculum, the educator-to-student ratio is about one to twenty-five (with a credentialed teacher-to-student ratio of approximately one to forty-two), but class size is typically five to eight students,” Lauans and the research team at Parthenon relate. “Students often pursue online learning or work on projects with supervision by paraprofessionals, and spend only a portion of their time participating in face-to-face classes with credentialed teachers. Students progress through online curricula at their own pace, complete hands-on projects and science labs, and connect one-on-one or in small groups with instructors when they need specific concepts explained or when the teachers want to engage or inspire the students with a certain educational activity. Flex Academy parlays its labor-cost savings into more spending on curriculum and technology.”

Indeed, it seems that the only thing stunting the growth of online education is the educational establishment. “There is one computer for every three students, yet only one million have taken an online course,” Chubbs noted at the Fordham forum. “Many states have restrictions on online charter schools.”

“Teacher’s unions have resisted using technology,” Bryan Hassel, the co-director of Public Impact noted at the Fordham symposium.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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