Thoughts on K-12 Online Education

To give an idea of what I have done during the last few months, one needs to look no further than at a snippet of my academic reading list: Teachers and Machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920 (Cuban, 1986); Oversold and Underused: Computers in the classroom (Cuban, 2001); Liberating Learning: Technology, politics, and the future of American education (Moe & Chubb, 2009); The One World Schoolhouse: Education reimagined (Khan, 2012); Growing up with Technology: Young children learning in a digital world ( Plowman, Stephen & McPake, 2009).

One should notice the obvious trend that all the works relate to technology and schools. As I move closer toward the dissertation phase of my PhD program, I have become enamored with the relationship between the two, which fortunately has culminated in the creation of a study that I will begin with a group of professors next semester. Our research team will look at perceptions and practices of cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, and it is my hope to relate  the project back to the larger picture of the relationship that schools have had with technology, both politically and socially.

With this in mind, I would like to pose a few interesting quotes from Larry Cuban’s above-listed book Oversold and Underused: Computers in the classroom:

“For public school officials who rely on the good will and political support of voters, failure to redirect budgets toward building a technological infrastructure for teachers and students could be political suicide. Even with little evidence that investments in information technologies raise test scores or promote better teaching, most school managers use the rhetoric of technological progress to establish legitimacy with their patrons and the private sector” (p. 159).

“It is seldom noted publicly, but many promoters of new technologies seem to have forgotten the historic civic idealism and broad social purposes public schools serve in a democracy. Well-intentioned reformers eager to make schools efficient instruments of American global economic competitiveness speak mostly about standards-based curriculum, test scores, and accountability as portals through which students move to become workers and consumers who help expand markets and contribute to soaring profits. They concentrate upon how schools serve the economy and how much individuals can gain, rather than on the public good. Recapturing the broad democratic purposes that Americans have sought through schooling and the critical importance of the schools in building and sustaining social capital challenges the assumptions passionately held by promoters of technology in schools” (p. 189-190).

I felted compelled to document these quotes on my blog just before beginning the research project because they capture an important undertone of the relationship schools have historically had with technology. Reformers often state that the implementation of technology is a must, and have done so often while forgetting the civic and social importance schools have carried in our society. I am interested (and a little scared) to ask questions of parents and administrators in the cyber charter school world what role they feel schools should have in their lives.

I worry that the answer will be one of creating a useful economic tool and not an enlightened citizen.