Customizing education via the Internet

My friend Richard Brodie commented on my labor day post that he thought education could be delivered a lot lot faster and cheaper over the internet. This sparked a debate about the effectiveness of machines over real teachers, the value of daydreaming, etc. Both points of view are incredibly valid. Here’s what we’re looking at on the “using the Internet” front. Daydreaming seems to take care of itself in schools…

Tens of thousands of students in Washington are now attending online high schools, where all the material and the interaction is delivered over the Internet. Al Gore would be proud. These schools are serving many kids for whom a traditional school isn’t the most effective way to get education – people who are remote, have special needs, don’t like the social environment, are being home-schooled, etc.

We’re starting to do analysis of the results, but it looks like we have a big drop-out rate. We also have concerns about students needing special education and not being able to get it from remote districts. I have some concerns about how the financing system works, but all of these are unrelated to the fact that many, many families in Washington are being well-served by these schools.

In other cases individual schools or districts are offering individual classes online as part of their regular program. This is great for a rural school to offer AP French Literature when they only have two kids that want it, or for a kid to take class when the schedule doesn’t work to take it physically. This is slower to catch on. My guess is that the financing model doesn’t work out for schools, making them reluctant to adopt the program. This’ll need to get fixed, and Rep. Marcie Maxwell from the 41st district is looking into it.

The most interesting opportunity from my point of view is to combine traditional schools (supervision, physical education, social interaction, sprots…) with very highly individualized instruction available by using online educaiton models in a traditional classroom. Each student gets to work at their own pace, and has a teacher available for consulting and extra help, but the material should be compelling. There are some great examples of this that various people are pursuing.

My personal hope is that the Bellevue School District will adopt this model as the core of the new Robinswood School as they re-invent it. We need some in-state experiments to validate the experience other states have had. It’s been scattered so far and will need a pretty controlled environment to test. I think this could be a compelling model to meld the two together and let kids get through school a lot faster. Many kids could be done with high school in 2 or 3 years if they could go at their own pace through the material. Others might take longer, but would be able to stay at their own pace through the curriculum.

Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.