Teaching without classroom teachers
Florida is the state that keeps on giving, at least to education writers. What it gives to its students is another question. One thing it isn’t giving to all of them these days is classroom teachers.
According to The New York Times, more than 7,000 students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools are now in a program in which they are taking core subjects via computer. There’s no teacher in the class, but, rather, a “facilitator” to help the kids.
One especially interesting thing about the arrangement is this: Many and perhaps most of the students had no idea what they were walking into when they started school last fall.
And another: These “e-learning labs,” were opened at the start of this academic year to help school officials get around the state law -- approved in a referendum by voters in 2002 -- that limits class size. By this past fall, core subject classes were allowed to have no more than 18 in K-3, 22 students in grades 4-8 and 25 students in grades 9-12.
But the law doesn’t apply to virtual classrooms. So they can and do have more than the limit; in some cases, 35 or 40 or more students.
The on-line classes are provided by Florida Virtual School, which is part of the state's public education system and offers online classes for children both in Florida and beyond. According to the school's website, more than 90 courses are available, and teachers and students interact through email, voice mail, telephone conversations and instant messenger. "Students are encouraged to contact the teacher when there is a need of any kind. Teachers speak via telephone with students and their parents at least once per month."
How’s that for clever? It’s no wonder that new Gov. Rick Scott wants to change the name of the Florida Department of Education to the Florida Department of Education Innovation.
Really, he does.
Changing the name on all official documents, letterheads, etc., sounds like a priority use of public money to me. You too?
When Scott says -- as he does frequently -- that the public schools are failing too many Florida kids, he obviously knows he is essentially saying that the last two governors, both of them Republican and one of them the powerful and reform-minded Jeb Bush, haven’t done enough since 1999 when Bush started the state’s reform program.
Now the Sunshine State is doing everything that a modern school reformer could hope for: charter schools, vouchers, on-line education (the country’s biggest), pay performance for teachers, plans to dismantle teacher tenure.... but it isn’t enough for Scott.
He wants to go a step farther than everybody else and expand a voucher program that allows low-income and disabled students to use public money to go to private schools to ALL students.
The preliminary plan works like this: Vouchers, euphemistically termed “education savings accounts,” would be created and the state would deposit public education funds into them for each eligible students. Parents would shop for the school they like -- public or private -- and help pay for it with 85 percent of the state’s per-student funding figure -- which this year is $6,843.
This could all be chalked up to just another education quirk or two in a state known for its quirkiness (disclosure: I’m a native Floridian) if it weren’t for the fact that Florida is seen around the country by many educators as a model for school reform.
If sending kids to virtual classrooms without telling them, and funding public education through vouchers, are part of the reform model in question, Floridians can keep it to themselves.
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| January 25, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Teachers | Tags: florida, florida education, florida schools, florida virtual school, gov. rick scott, online classes, rick scott, virtual classrooms
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