Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Arne Duncan and His Distance Learning Missive

By on August 12, 2009

I read this article on August 8th with no real plans to write a post about it, but sometimes the content just sticks with a gal, you know? In The LA Times, “Swine Flue Won’t Mean School’s Out,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan warns:

“Realistically, some schools will close this fall. It’s incredibly important to all of us that our students continue to learn,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “Educators need to start thinking now about having temporary home school in place using both phones and the Internet.”
Now, many of us have seen the writing on the wall and know that online classes and distance learning will of course begin to play a huge part in K-12 education. I’m excited by it, but reform has been slow in this country, even if other countries are moving more rapidly towards 21st Century learning. I also know that history tends to repeat itself, and sometimes it takes a disaster or an abrupt shift in legislature to push change through in any profession. But here we are, once again, asking schools to come up with the solution for a problem for which the entire Equation of Success is responsible.

As I’ve written before, my Equation of Success is as follows:

Schools + Home + Government + Student = Student Success

In other words, it’s the school’s job to provide the good teaching and the solid curriculum. It’s the home’s job to provide for the health and stability and nutrition and follow-through for the child. It’s the government’s job to help fund education. It’s the student’s job to do their best. Only if each variable is pulling their weight can a student succeed. Modern education and online learning

But once again, schools are being put to the task of solving a problem that the other elements have a hand in creating and solving. After all, families with no healthcare and no childcare options continuously send their sick children to school. And the government has never devoted enough funds to develop deep-seated educational technology in our schools. (see my article on the recent cuts to ed tech). Yet here we are, a la NCLB, with a missive and no guidance or enough resources.

As an ed tech advocate I’m thrilled that schools must take distance learning seriously. I believe it to be a 21st Century form of differentiation that has the potential to bring the highest form of knowledge to the most isolated area and to students who struggle to work within our current educational system.

I want to move forward and begin to be a part of the discussion, brainstorming, and implementation of more widespread distance learning opportunities for K-12 students. I just never thought that schools and districts would be so isolated, having to solve the challenges of this evolution alone.

After all, how will we compensate teachers for their extra online time? Or will we hire teachers-on-assignment to do only that? How will we develop the online curriculum with teachers who still need to be trained? Will we pay for pre-made curriculum as we develop our own? From which budget are these monies coming from? How will we outreach to those students with no computer in their home? Or will the achievement gap widen with each day a school is closed?

Teachers are frequently asked to work with no compensation or with inadequate supplies, with the assumption that they will solve the issue and not cause a problem, for the good of the students. And I forget sometimes, that districts are also asked to do the same. The umbrella mission of schools and their “education for all” objective unfortunately allows many ways out for the other variables in the Equation of Success.

But districts’ umbrellas only open so wide without the parents, the government, and the students holding open their own. We know that this jump in educational practice must occur one way or another, but we need to pull together as a community to make it happen…for the good of the students.

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  1. Nancy Flanagan
    August 12, 2009

    Interesting combination of factors here, eh? A kind of Perfect Swine Storm, if you will, to test a number of suppositions:

    #1) Parents will keep their sick kids home because it’s the right, community-responsible thing to do (even if it means losing the crappy, no-benefits job it took them 10 months to find).

    #2) Teachers will generously reach out to their students at home and teach them as conscientiously as they’re teaching the kids at school, because it’s the right thing to do.

    #3) Schools will magically re-think their anti-social networking, anti-cell phone, anti-multiple platform, anti-anything but prescribed, textbook-based curriculum in order to meet kids’ needs in crisis, because it’s the right thing to do.

    And some of these items actually conflict with each other.

    It’s time for us to stop assuming that everyone will do the right thing, because we have NO idea what the right thing is.

  2. Susan Graham
    August 13, 2009

    “Educators need to start thinking now about having temporary home school in place…..”
    In too many classrooms across the country teachers are not trusted to design and deliver their curriculum outside a regime of scripted lessons on an inflexible time line,yet educators, rather than policy decisionmakiers, should be thinking up the design an on-line school plan that can implement on demand if schools close. If Sec. Duncan has faith that educators are up the challenge of transforming delivery of education as an emergency response to an epidemic, why not trust educators to solve instruction problems when the educators and the educatees aren’t contagious? I’m not saying we couldn’t do it, I’m just wondering why it takes disease and disaster to let us design our own solutions.

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