Monday, July 30, 2012

Homeschool, Market Forces, School Choice, and the Future of Public Education

In doing work for an administrative licensing program this summer, I came across the concept of the Grammar of Schooling and the idea of "real school" - that is, the way school is supposed to be.  And, with everything I've been reading and writing about in terms of a paradigm shift in education, I was intrigued by the "stickiness" of certain models in education.  For the most part, despite a century of public school reform, public education has looked the same for about 150 years.  Before that, by the way, the concept didn't really exist.  But the notion of "real school" stuck with me, especially as innovations like the Khan Academy and Coursera have challenged the conventional wisdom about seat time and contact hours.  And as I've noted before, Anya Kamenetz has published some excellent analysis of the shift in education which she is calling "DIY-U" - that is "Do It Yourself University."

The term "real school" surfaced again this weekend as I read Quinn Cummings WSJ article "My Education in Homeschooling." Ms. Cummings addressed her year-long experiment in home schooling and challenged many of the traditional norms about the practice - such as religious zealotry and the fear of society, as well as the warnings about under-socialized kids.  Cumming's arguments and insight were quite inspired and erudite, but I was also intrigued by her assertions about "real school" - as in the neighborhood school that her friends and neighbors would ask about.  She poses the interesting prediction that "... many Americans will adapt to the new social and economic realities.  Online classes have already become part of the extended curriculum for many students.  In the iTunes version of public education, relevant learning experiences will originate from the large red brick building, from a recreation center, from a music studio in Seattle or a lecture hall in London.  It won't be home schooling, but 'roam' schooling."

Ms. Cummings imagines a day when kids spend some time at their brick and mortar school, but it is not a regimented day if they don't want it to be so.  Because they will leave that school for more internship and experiential education such as "two afternoons a week, he logs into an art seminar being taught in Paris ... or takes computer classes at community college .... or studies web design on YouTube ... or practices Spanish on Skype ... or studies AP Chemistry with a tutor at the local library."  All these ideas break the mold of required seat time, which I support.  However, they also depend heavily on highly motivated students and parents, and are likely to work well for the middle class and affluent, but fail miserably for those most in need of education.  And, of course, despite the growth and value of online learning, there are still many intangibles that give superiority to lively, engaging classrooms in the traditional Socratic model.

Certainly, A Teacher's View is always about whatever works.  And, I view with suspicion the continued adaptation of market models promoted by people like the the Gates Foundation.  In fact, Elizabeth Stokes of the Next New Deal offers some valuable insight and criticism into those market models in an article for Salon.  She also offers a great link to Daniel Pink's Wash Post expose on the flawed ideas behind market forces such as merit pay or pay for performance.  However, back to the original point about "real school" and the way things ought to be.  I'd argue that institutions in society remain for good reasons - overall, they work.  However, that is not to say we can't - or shouldn't - expand our ideas about what "real school" really is.

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