Over 7,000 students in Miami-Dade schools are now taking core classes online. Seems like an exciting development for online learning and educational choices, right? Wrong. In a handy reminder that the coolest, most promising technology can wind up being co-opted by the powers that be, Florida seems to have managed to make kids bummed about the chance to learn at their own pace using computers.
Most kids would kill to spend part of the day minimally supervised, working online. But kids and their parents prefer to make that choice for themselves. Instead, hundreds of kids showed up in their classrooms to find they had been unceremoniously dumped online without any warning. How did a change that should have been a good thing wind up being a point of contention? Regulation:
These virtual classrooms, called e-learning labs, were put in place last August as a result of Florida's Class Size Reduction Amendment, passed in 2002. The amendment limits the number of students allowed in classrooms, but not in virtual labs.
In general, Florida is an online learning success story. But too often, optimists see what looks like an exciting new development in education—computers in the classroom! reduced class sizes!—in what is really just more of the same old crap—reducing the choices of an already captive audience for the convenience of adults.
This is something that even 15-year-old girls can grasp:
Alix Braun, 15, a sophomore at Miami Beach High, takes Advanced Placement macroeconomics in an e-learning lab with 35 to 40 other students. There are 445 students enrolled in the online courses at her school, and while Alix chose to be placed in the lab, she said most of her lab mates did not.
"None of them want to be there," Alix said, "and for virtual education you have to be really self-motivated. This was not something they chose to do, and it's a really bad situation to be put in because it is not your choice."
Doing things differently isn't enough to make schools better. If you're taking away choices, it's not real reform.
By the by, it's almost school choice week!