Virtual learning is another case of experimenting on kids

"You cannot fool all of the people all of the time," said Abraham Lincoln. Except for experiments in education foisted upon our schoolchildren.

The Oregonian editorial you published ("Scholastic app-titude", Oct 15) states: "Our grand experiment with Google bears caution and will require close tracking at both the district and state levels to know whether it helps students learn or thwarts them — or both."

The editorial describes the high-tech education experiment in which about 50 of Oregon's nearly 200 school districts have registered to participate. The free program from Google uses "a suite of powerful computer applications ... (that) ... creates virtuality in classwork, social networking, homework, even library research."

Oregon's education policymakers could consult their colleagues in Colorado. Education Week reports that "Colorado taxpayers will spend $100 million this year on online schools that are failing many of their students, state education records and interviews with school officials show." (Oct 5 issue)

Colorado's online students who had average scores on standardized tests while attending brick-and-mortar schools had significantly lower scores after a year of online learning. A study based on 90 percent of all online students in Colorado found half left within a year; most returned to their regular schools having fallen behind academically. Teachers struggled to help them recover without holding back the rest of their students.

In Oregon, online learning will be partially done at bricks-and-mortar schools. But Google's Apps include ways for students "to collaborate from remote locations ... and leave color-coded tracks for each other and their teacher to see," and use gmail to communicate, says The Oregonian editorial.

Based on my long teaching experience, I suspect that remoteness and high-tech gadgets are not as effective as educrats believe. I have seen so many education experiments fail, like discovery math, whole language and cooperative learning. More recently — in the computers and data systems era — I have watched No Child Left Behind falter.

The same Education Week issue has a front page story on how states can escape No Child Left Behind's mandates. The "waiver process" is the Obama administration's attempt to avoid the NCLB mandate that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 or districts will face harsh sanctions. What educators could foresee a decade ago is now reality; threats embodied in the No Child Left Behind Act do not achieve success. This costly experiment, which labeled countless school communities as failures and relied on computer generated data, has itself failed.

What must states do to receive a waiver from NCLB? Education Week reports: "To gain a waiver, states will have to adopt college and career-ready standards and tie state tests to them, adopt a differentiated accountability system that focuses on 15 percent of the most troubled schools, and craft guidelines for teacher and principal-evaluation systems that will be based partly on student growth and used for personnel decisions."

How many scarce resources can states devote to this complex waiver process? Few states are ready to meet the first deadlines, in November and February, which is worrisome. "The Education Department has signaled it wants all states to eventually earn a waiver" reports Education Week. "This is not a competition where some states win and others are left behind," says one official. The underlying fear is that in 2014, numerous school districts nationwide will be labeled failures and face onerous sanctions.

Virtual learning and No Child Left Behind both rely heavily on computers and data systems. Oregon parents are rightly concerned about privacy issues. The Oregonian reports that "everything typed online using Google Apps will be possessed forever by Google in remote servers, known poetically as 'the cloud.' " The standardized tests results mandated by NCLB go into data systems which increasingly store every bit of information on our children, from pre-school through college.

Imagine who might have access to all this supposedly "secure data" in future years. Have you ever experienced a data entry error or computer glitch? Who will protect the integrity of all our children's stored data? Where is the evidence that high-tech experiments enhance education effectiveness and are worth the price our children pay?

Betty R. Kazmin of Medford taught math for 20 years in Los Angeles public and private secondary schools, and served on the board of education in Willard, Ohio.

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