Changing Educational Infrastructures

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Imagine that everyday, you need a cracker snack at the vending machine. Each time you deposit your money, you are greeted to a package of broken crackers. Today, not only are they broken but the bag is also ripped. The vendor is called and comes to repair it. He takes a roll of scotch tape and tapes the outside of the machine. The tape is representative of Schools-within-schools. The following day, the machine produces a defective product, and the vendor comes and puts masking tape on the outside of then machine which we shall call Charter Schools. On the third day, the vendor splurges and uses duct tape on the outside of the machine. This is vouchers or privatization.

A young woman from another office has been observing your dilemma, comes with a screwdriver and pries open the door- Distance Learning. Ah, she says. I see your problem. This machine was designed for ejecting hard taffy not soft crackers. The entire internal system must be redesigned for the crackers to come out whole. Why is it that we keep trying one change after another with no appreciable modification or improvement in student learning? Is it because human beings by nature resist change?

In the 1800’s, the Underwood typewriter was invented. The keyboard system it used was called the dvorak for the line up of letters. Unfortunately, the speed that an individual used to type under this system was faster than the machine could type. The typewriter was constantly malfunctioning and the keys sticking. So, the keyboard was changed to qwerty; it was designed to slow down the typist. It was designed for failure. In the 1940’s, the electric typewriter was invented and the new machine returned the keyboard design to the old dvororak system. It was initially a failure until the keys became qwerty. Today, with computers that can type faster than the speed of light, the qwerty system is still used even though it is known to slow down the typist. Human beings resist change in every arena of life for the most part, until they are forced to change.

Please allow a slight divergence from the topic of this conference, Distance Learning for a moment, in order to examine these other models of education that I alluded to earlier. In business, whenever things become unmanageable, we downsize, especially with the administrative and managerial personnel. In education when problems of management exist, we upsize or consolidate. The schools and the classrooms became larger and larger. Several years ago, in an attempt to regain control as well as humanize education in these large schools, the schools-with-schools concept emerged. Children are supposedly clustered into heterogeneous numbers of no more than 300 or 400 with the same teachers, same students and same administrative staff throughout the entire middle and/or high school years. For schools like the Reading School district, which has 5,000 students, the second largest high school on the east coast, this makes some aspects of the school culture manageable. Large numbers still congregate in halls and auditoriums and principals still do not know students except when they are behavior problems. Although this model has had some success, it still does not replace the humane, familial, nurturing, manageable environment of the small schools (meaning no more than 350 students), which researchers statistically prove provides a better environment for learning.

Elementary and Secondary School Act allowed for Charter Schools in 1965 first school in US was 1991. The General Standards of the PA Public School Code of Act 22 1997 enacted legislation for Charter Schools in PA Charter schools, here, were an attempt to develop new and innovative curriculum, programs or whole school models into the public schools without disrupting the status quo. Like their counterparts, the university laboratory Day Care centers of the 1960’s, the government decided that this would be the best venue for alternate models to be developed outside of the public institution. Research demonstrated through the restructuring efforts of many school districts in the 1970’s and 1980’s, that the only time the school infrastructure could be changed was from small successful pilot projects not whole school district endeavors. In restructuring, an outside team would assist all major players to agree on a common goal- that is, school board, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and community leaders. Unfortunately, after three to five years, all experimental districts returned to what was familiar and safe.

For the most part, Charter schools are a privilege on the part of faculty and students rather than a right. As wonderful as this laboratory setting may seem, in Pennsylvania it has had little success in changing the status quo of the school district it inhabits. Charter Schools like the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology in Philadelphia, are giving students an identity, a community, nurturing and competence, the essentials lacking in most urban districts. From the very beginning, this charter concept has been labeled as a threat to public education by some and adds to the difficulties of dwindling finances from state and Federal coffers. Charter schools are considered ‘evil’ by schools districts because they supposedly take away the financial base of the district. For every child that attends a Charter school, the jurisdictional public school district must pay that Charter school a per-pupil amount as equated by the tax base. For some school districts that could be anywhere from $6,000 per year to $8,000 per year per student. In Pennsylvania, children who attend Charter Schools, for the most part, cannot use any public school resources. This includes participating in after school programs, sports clubs or summer school. This is in direct violation of the purpose behind Charter Schools which was meant to enhance the district not detract from it. The problem of novelty for the human condition always engenders fear- especially fears of loss. So charter school have been plagued in Pennsylvania with the assumed fear of loss of jobs, funding and collapse. Unfortunately, districts do not see Charters as a means out of the dilemma of declining student performance.

In addition, the combination of vouchers and Charter schools has posed an impending peril for school districts. In a hearing a few weeks ago, Rod Hartle of Clarion School District in the western agricultural portion of the state which has a per pupil ratio of $6,000 per child, found a bill in mid October for 7 students who are attending Charter schools on line. In a rural schools district, which has an agricultural base and few students, $42,000 is a lot of money to lose for one year. The legislators of PA are deliberating about the dilemma.

The mayor of Philadelphia this week has exemplified this misperception by declining 23 of the 25 Charter applications. For example, one of the reasons the mayor declined one school application is because in those areas private Catholic schools exist where the children attend school. The private school children would then come to the Charter school, adding to the burden of the school district. These children were not previously enrolled in the public school and the district did not receive reimbursement for them. What you are not told is that the Chinatown area charter has been declined because the public schools there are so deplorable, parents have no other choice but to send their children to the Catholic schools. Imagine the parents in China town for example, who are Buddhists or Hindu’s having to send their children to Catholic school because it is the only decent school in the area. Yet, in many states, charter schools have been the redeeming quality for faltering, unmanageable public schools.

The voucher or privatization of schools like Chester Upland, which has been taken over by the governor through the Empowerment Act of 2000, is now becoming a private school. This means that the parents in that area will receive a stipend from the state to attend the private school of their choice In Chester; there is only one public school and two charter schools. If the tax base in Chester is $4,000 per pupil because of the economic base then that is all parents will receive in reimbursements. However, the private school has no ceiling over what it charges for tuition because it is a private enterprise. So, the private school charges $6,000 per pupil. Where do poor parents find the resources to pay for their child’s education? Further, as a private school, it has the digression to permit or eject students based on behavior, grades or any other standard it chooses. It can also raise tuition year after year without any obligation to students with vouchers. These schools tend to become elitist and poor children are barred from attending for one reason or another. These are the untold secrets with vouchers. Just because the state allots certain amounts of money per pupil does not mean that it will cover the yearly tuition and book fees.

A prime example is the Edison project, private schools across the nation established by a group of wealthy businessmen who assumed that operating a school was no different than operating a good business. Confident in their philosophy, it is listed on the stock exchange. Seeking to cure the ills of education, the schools were internally organized with methodology that reflected the deficiencies Americans considered critical to restore order- such as under paid professionals, lack of ownership by major players, longer school year to complete subject matter. Children have a longer day and school year and wear uniforms. Teachers are paid higher salaries and receive stock in the company. Company executives designed the curriculum. In a television interview, owner Chris Whittle, stated that they have exactly the same problems as every school and recently they have been collaborating with local pubic schools to ‘think tank’ the problems away. In addition, Chris must constantly focus on the bottom line- his stockholders, whose interest is profits. Is this a cure for the educational dilemma? Do profit margins and a child’s welfare go hand-in-hand? If vouchers were the answer, then one state in the US that has had vouchers for thirty years would be number one in the nation in education. Do you know what state that is? My point exactly.

Attila the Hun in his great strategy of war always found the weakest link in the opponents battle strategy and struck that weak link repeatedly until they fell. Distance Learning has managed to capitalize on weaknesses of the educational infrastructure and come in through the back door.

In a comparative analysis, research shows the following about Distance Learning;

If monitored properly: If unmonitored:

STRONG POINTS WEAK POINTS

One-on-one lack communication skills

Private, quiet, good concentration lonely/alone

Time to play isolation

Time for quiet brain dysfunction; overuse

Humane cocoon existence

Sensitizing social skills lacking

Time spent responsibly emotional skills lacking

Self-motivation wired; edgy

Initiative active

Creativity addicted

Violence free

Free of peer pressure

Stable, family fundamentals

Free of conflicting values

Cause-effect healthy

Graduation in less time

Instant accessibility to information

.

In physics, there are only two kinds of systems- open and closed. Education in America is a closed system Open systems grow with the environment and change becoming more and more complex systems. Closed systems keep out the external environment and hence stagnate. The children’s toy Ecosphere is a prime example of a closed system. Over time, all living plant and animal life dies within it. The only way a closed system can survive is either- change instantly (break it open), become absorbed into the environment (let all of the plants and animals go free) or it disintegrates.

Our model of education is like the last episode of Mary Tyler Moore Show. Someone wanted to retrieve a tissue and the entire group moved to that direction. When the tissue was retrieved, the ensemble returned to its original position. As outside influences became imposing instead of enhancing, schools became dislocated from communities. This is how education has built itself into a closed system, albeit unintentionally over the last 100 years. An example comes from the beginning of the 1950’s when the Dairy and Cattleman’s Association strategize a marketing plan to create life long consumers by striking at the young in a million dollar marketing campaign, business has continuously peddled its products on the unsuspecting young through the schools. Good intentioned educators were unaware of the tactics and saw only the free ‘products’ – that is, posters for classrooms, stickers, booklets, and trips to dairy farms with the result of ice cream. It seemed a win-win for everyone. It is now 50 years later, that the Food and Drug Administration has discovered that the principles presented to baby boomers as children in the 50’s brought a nations ‘at-risk’ to disease through high fat content diets. There was no scientific data backing these claims, just free merchandizing for the classroom The advent of industry in the schools, opened the Pandora’s box today. Once the door was open, teachers were usurped and lost the ability to control daily curriculum content, schools became defensive about influence from outsiders, a lingua franca or professional language developed to contain information within, an impenetrable wall began to be built between community and school.

Distance Learning is changing the landscape of American education. This is not a new concept. Years ago, it was called Correspondence School. Students have been receiving an education other than the four corners of the classroom for generations. SHOW BOOK. Pat Montgomery became weary of the public school system in Chicago and 28 years ago, started the Clonlora School, one of the first K-12 distance learning schools in the world. Pat travels the globe educating countries in the processes of achieving academic excellence through the distances. Sandy Hurst of Upatinas School and Open Connections here in PA is private schools have done distance learning as well. This is not a new concept. Rather it is a time-honored method of learning that has been traditionally open to children who were at-risk, home schooled or did not fit into the traditional educational setting. This text lists many schools of distance learning of 25 years and more.

Now with the infusion of technology and distance learning in elementary through college level, the educational barrier has been perpetrated further by business. Again, our capitalistic heritage breeds new life into an already saturated market. Everyone is getting into the education business. Bob Bennett, ED Hirsh and the new Education Secretary have established a Distance Learning Charter School in three states privately funded by millions of dollars. This is a K-12 program computerized supposedly for the 3 million home-schooled children in America. The charter locations will be California, Alaska and Pennsylvania. Their Norristown Charter Distance Learning School is called PA Virtual Charter School. Now Charter schools and distance learning have become partners.

DL is affecting every aspect of the educational internal infrastructure that. appears obsolete. Some of these areas include; textbooks, controlled environments, core curriculum, Carnegie units, time, testing, group/peer interaction, and theories of learning. Mental mindsets must change.

The first textbook was the Sear’s Roebuck catalogue. We have come a long way. In the early 1800’s, the American Book Company produced the first reading and mathematics books. We did a study comparing the McGuffy Reader of 1898 to today’s reader and found that first grade is comparative to fifth grade today. The TIMMS Report compared American textbooks, mathematics, to those of 40 others countries. With the Japanese child, rating number one in math scores, their math text proved substantially smaller with fewer breaks in the sequence of information that is from addition to geometry to word problems. In fact, there were five breaks in Japanese text to 5,000 breaks in the American. Also, students in America are given the formula to memorize while Japanese children are asked to discover the formula themselves. Outdated textbooks that take 10 years to produce from insemination to student hand, is obsolete before it reaches the child. And how many districts have the funding to replace textbooks every year? There are textbooks in classrooms in Pennsylvania from the 1950’s. This mode of disseminating information has become obsolete when a child can go home, turn on the computer and find information instantly. There is no comparison of textbooks to computer.

Before the turn of the century, teachers had control over the subjects taught and the time spent and the content of subject matter in their classrooms. The one-room schoolhouses abounded. Then in 1894, the Committee of Twelve, the presidents of universities across America, decided that a standard was needed for applicants to college. At that time, with every teacher deciding how much of each subject to teach according to the needs of her pupils, the 15% of college bound students came with a wide diversification of information. Some had three years of English while others only had one. The same was true for other subjects. So, again without further study, the five-core curriculum was adopted- science, Social Studies, math, language and English. A few years later, another conference was held and funded by Carnegie, and the time-spent units were inaugurated. This split all subject matter into digestible parts of the day. This mental mindset substantiated the Cartesian Newtonian principles that envisioned child as machine, measured, controlled, severed mind and body. Adding to this were the behavioral theorists of Pavlov with operant and stimulus-response conditioning, and we have the formula of education that exists today. Ted Sizer author of the longitudinal study on American high schools says that expectations are low, the shopping mall mentality of subject learning is pervasive and the curriculum has not changed- other than adding technology- since the 1940’s, which is why SAT scores have flat lined. Of course, in 1943, the Nine Year report was published which virtually condemned Core Curriculum and Carnegie Units but was politically incorrect for a nation at war and was shelved in the archives at the University of Tennessee.

Technology is replacing teacher control of classroom curriculum, content and time spent by student-parent control. The responsibility of learning through distance learning is on the student where it belongs. Students and parents have access to choose courses of study. More demands are placed upon teachers. No more can a teacher wait for weeks to grade and return papers. Computer age requires instant results and students are demanding it.

Long held beliefs such as children need an adult to supervise the educational process; that days must be chopped up into little pieces without continuity so that upon graduation, mysteriously and magically student have a clear integration of subject matter; that everyone learns at the same rate at the same age; that textbooks hold the only key to guiding the curriculum; are crumpling.

At this moment, technology changes every 6-12 months. A student attending community college for technology certification has obsolete skills before she graduates. Educational changes linger over committee meetings, continual changes in administration, school boards, governmental legislation, red tape, union negotiations and the list goes on. If education is going to keep pace with technology, then Distance Learning is the obvious choice.

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