The Virtual Public School Genie

by Robert Pondiscio
February 1st, 2008

New York Times“Half a million American children take classes online,” reports this morning’s New York Times, “with a significant group getting all their schooling from virtual public schools. The rapid growth of these schools has provoked debates in courtrooms and legislatures over money, as the schools compete with local districts for millions in public dollars, and over issues like whether online learning is appropriate for young children.”

This is a big, important story—and trend—that’s only going to get bigger. The Times story looks at Wisconsin, where state lawmakers agreed to allow a dozen online schools to stay open “despite a court ruling against them and the opposition of the teachers union.”

The genie is out of the bottle, and won’t go back in willingly.

Update: “We’ve made great strides in providing education for the world’s children. Much more needs to be done, and technology can provide the tools.” So says Bill Gates in an essay today in Forbes.

Do Tell Mama

by Robert Pondiscio
February 1st, 2008

Vanderbilt UniversityTurns out Mom was actually helping you learn when she asked, “What did you learn in school today?” Research from Vanderbilt University indicates that four- and five-year-olds learn the solution to a problem best when they explain it to their mother. Previous research indicated that kids learn well with their mothers or a peer, but what was less well understood was whether learning was enhanced because kids were getting feedback and help.

“In this study, we just had the children’s mothers listen, without providing any assistance,” notes the study’s author, Bethany Rittle-Johnson, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt. “We’ve found that by simply listening, a mother helps her child learn,” says Rittle-Johnson, who believes the study shows parents can assist their children with their schoolwork, even when they are not sure of the answer themselves.

“The basic idea is that it is really effective to try to get kids to explain things themselves instead of just telling them the answer,” she said. “Explaining their reasoning, to a parent or perhaps to other people they know, will help them understand the problem and apply what they have learned to other situations.”

Standards Down, Fries Are Up!

by Robert Pondiscio
February 1st, 2008

From the Mother Country, comes word that McDonald’s employees in the U.K. will be able to use their fast food training for credit toward a high school diploma.  “It is the first time the government has granted national recognition to corporate training schemes,” the Associated Press reports. “But universities and colleges will have to decide whether to accept the corporate qualifications as grounds for admission.” Reaction? Pretty much what you’d expect.  A headline writer’s field day with stories about McQualifications, while business associations argue that giving McDonalds the ability to award the equivalent of “A-levels” will encourage young people to stay in education and training to 18.”