Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

March 7, 2014

MARK HEINIG: Will 'virtual schools' enrich or replace traditional education?

Best way to learn technical subjects is in laboratory.

(Continued)

Visibility works better in small schools because faculty members can identify more students, making it harder to break rules without consequences. Some psychologists recommend catching kids being good! This requires placing them where they can’t misbehave without penalties and then praising them for behaving well.

Future K-12 students may take many of their classes online. If you look behind you, you’ll see the future is almost here. It’s pursuing us with amazing speed. We call it virtual education, and it’s an indispensable part of our future. Some virtual schools claim to offer the same curriculum and instructional practices as their brick-and-mortar neighbors. Maybe so and maybe not!

It’s too soon to generalize about K-12 virtual schools. Some only offer online courses, and others, called blended schools, feature a combination of online and traditional classroom instruction. I think blended schools will prove more successful than totally online ones because they offer a satisfactory answer to one critical question: Can students taught entirely at home master subjects requiring a hands-on component?

I don’t think they can. How do we get the necessary equipment and supplies to each child? How do we evaluate their work? Can we teach laboratory courses without laboratories? Someday we may solve those problems, but not yet! Doing laboratory work at a central location with adequate equipment and qualified instructors remains the best way to learn many technical subjects.

Why are virtual schools so appealing? There are many reasons, but three command our attention.

• Virtual schools allow students to enroll in courses that don’t attract many participants.

• They also offer a discreet way to help students improve poor grades.

• As I have already explained, they often cost less.

Saving money is never unpopular among our elected leaders. The prospect of saving enough money to lower taxes without reducing services is something politicians of both parties fanaticize about. It wouldn’t antagonize the taxpayers, either.

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