Mike Klein Online

Barnes, Deal Education Agendas Should Emphasize Online Learning

Education agendas proposed by Georgia’s two major candidates for Governor leave wide open a hole that any running back would appreciate.  Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes put forward plans that give only slight mention to online education.  That misses a significant education priority for Georgia children.

Georgia’s candidates have the opportunity to take a bold step.  They could declare Georgia will become a national leader in online education offered by the Department of Education.  They could say every high school student will participate in at least one online course each semester.  They could say it will happen within their first term.  Georgia is a long way from being able to provide those resources, but Georgia can get there.  One of them could make it happen.

Today we have many students at every education age who live in an online world but they study in the traditional setting that educated their parents.  They play on devices that connect them near and far but they remain too dependent on learning that emphasizes cumbersome outdated books over software and teacher-to-pupil speeches rather than interactive environments.

Curiously, this was not addressed much in the education plans proposed by the candidates.

The Barnes plan “Make Education Work: A Blueprint for Georgia’s Teachers and Students” was joined this week by the Deal planReal Results: Building Blocks for Developing Life-, College- and Work-Ready Students.”

Online education is the single best learning tool for students who seek advanced placement and other courses not available in their own schools.  It makes interactive education possible for students to work in groups regardless of their location.  It provides resources at reduced costs. It is the best and sometimes only choice for homebound and special needs students.

There are more reasons for Georgia to aggressively embrace online education.  Every student will participate in online courses in the university system.  And, it prepares students for the real world where work and training is increasingly online in many professions.  Every one of these is a reason to push more online education into our public schools.

Georgia’s current online education model is largely an experiment.  How Georgia compares to other southern states is discussed in a Southern Regional Education Board analysis of the 2008 – 2009 school year.  SREB reported on 16 southern states, including Florida and Georgia which both operate virtual schools inside their respective state Departments of Education.

SREB reported Florida Virtual School had an $87 million budget, 898 full-time teachers and 145,935 course enrollments. Georgia Virtual School had a $5.3 million budget, 10 full-time teachers (plus 55 part-time faculty) and 9,793 course enrollments.

Florida had more unique students (6,264) who took their entire curriculum online than Georgia had total unique students (4,861). Georgia also offers online credit recovery for students who need to repeat some courses.  Florida’s program started in 1997; Georgia began in 2005.

This year the state Department of Education budget is $7.4 billion.  Georgia Virtual School, the online model inside the state DOE, began the new fiscal year with a $5.4 million budget.

Getting from where we are to where we should be would require a commitment that recognizes changing how we teach makes new things possible.  All Georgia high school students should be required to take one or more online courses every semester as part of their studies inside the traditional classroom setting.  Private school students should be able to participate for a fee.

An expanded commitment to online education would require ramping up the DOE Georgia Virtual model with significant funding, more courses, more instructors and more technology.  It would require technology upgrades in schools statewide. It would require skill set upgrades for classroom teachers who have little or no familiarity with online curriculum.  It would require that legislators and educators release themselves from traditional classroom thinking.

Education agendas from Georgia’s two major party gubernatorial candidates are politically safe proposals that seek to ensure voters the kids will be in good hands and teachers could stop worrying about their pensions and furlough dates.

Both candidates discuss the importance of charter schools.  Deal advocates for charter high schools that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.  Barnes vows a return to his first-term agenda for smaller class sizes.  Both candidates take the politically correct path to preserve and enhance the HOPE scholarship.

Georgia deserves bold education imagination.  Pushing online education forward requires bold imagination.  The goal is attainable because where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Mike Klein writes about education and other issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

September 12, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

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