redefinED blog stars: On Coursera, Cristo Rey, course choice and more

blog starEditor’s note: “Blog stars” is our occasional roundup of thoughtful stuff from other ed blogs and sometimes a newspaper or two.

Don’t forget course choice

From a Shreveport Times op-ed: Nearly all of us have had an experience where we were stuck in a class in which no matter how many times the teacher explained a concept, we just couldn’t grasp it. Our friends around us may have understood, but it just didn’t make sense to us. The class whisked along, we fell further behind, and the frustration mounted. What if we had had the chance to take the class online, at our own pace, with concepts explained multiple ways until we grasped it?

Louisiana students now have that option.

Thanks to Act 2, a law that Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law in the spring of 2012, a student attending one of the state’s lowest performing schools — those with a grade of C, D, or F — now has the right and the funding to take courses from any of the 45 state-approved high-quality course providers, so long as the student takes at least one course in her “home” district school. Students at schools graded an A or B will also have the right to take any online course that their local school does not offer, thereby expanding a student’s course options, and a district could also decide to allow a student to take any online course through the program. …

As every parent knows, every child has different learning needs at different times. If we hope to have all children succeed in school and life, then we need a system that can personalize for their different needs. While the world has changed, however, our schools have not. Instead we have an education system that mandates the amount of time students spend in class but does not expect each child to master her learning. The result is that students don’t receive the support they need to master each subject before they move on to the next one. This creates gaps in every child’s learning — gaps that haunt them later in their schooling. Full op-ed here.

Private schools funded through students jobs

From Jay Mathews’ Class Struggle blog: Twelve years ago, I stumbled across a story that seemed too good to be true. A Catholic high school in Chicago ensured its financial survival by having students help pay their tuition by working one day a week in clerical jobs at downtown offices.

This was a new idea in U.S. secondary education. New ideas are not necessarily a good thing, because they often fail. But the creator of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School was an educational missionary named John P. Foley who had spent much of his life helping poor people in Latin America. I was not going to dump on an idea from a man like that without seeing how it worked out.

Now I know. The Cristo Rey network has grown to 25 schools in 17 states, including a campus in Takoma Park, where more than half the students are from Prince George’s County and more than a third are from the District. It is blossoming in a way no other school, public or private, has done in this region. …

More than 90 percent of the students at the original Cristo Rey school were from low-income families. Few had been subjected to the pressures of big-city offices. But they received proper training for their clerical assignments. As the experiment proceeded, they realized the writing, reading and math skills they were learning in school were relevant to their new jobs — and their work experience would help them find jobs to pay their way through college. Full column here.

Revolution hits the universities

From Thomas L. Friedman at the New York Times: LORD knows there’s a lot of bad news in the world today to get you down, but there is one big thing happening that leaves me incredibly hopeful about the future, and that is the budding revolution in global online higher education.

Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems. And nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity.

Last May I wrote about Coursera — co-founded by the Stanford computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng — just after it opened. Two weeks ago, I went back out to Palo Alto to check in on them. When I visited last May, about 300,000 people were taking 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other elite universities. Today, they have 2.4 million students, taking 214 courses from 33 universities, including eight international ones. Full column here.

One size does not fit all. Let’s create some new sizes.

From Mississippi syndicated columnist Wyatt Emmerich: The best system comes from the bottom up, not the top down. It is the parents and children making personal decisions as to their own best interests that will improve education, not countless education administrators telling parents what they need.

The initial legislative moves are baby steps that will have minimal impact on our huge government bureaucracy. Something is better than nothing.

But to truly transform education – and it needs transforming – much more sweeping changes will be necessary. We need to dismantle the behemoth and replace it with a diverse and competitive system based on competition and parental choice. …

With two children in alternative schools, I know. School choice is not about skimming the cream off the top. It is about providing alternative, publicly-funded education environments for the 30 percent of children for whom the mainstream school does not work. Full column here.

Public schools vs. public education

From the New Hampshire Union-Leader: One of the reasons New Hampshire has to continue debating school choice year after year is that self-proclaimed supporters of public education do not support public education. They support public schools.

Last year the Legislature passed a law to give businesses a tax credit for a portion of the money they donate to new educational scholarship programs. The scholarships must be offered to families with incomes lower than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Students use the money to help pay for tuition at private schools.

Democrats opposed the tax credit last year and are pushing to abolish it this year. House Education Committee Chairman Mary Stuart Gile told this newspaper last week, “My primary concern about education in New Hampshire is to support public education, and this program would divert business profits taxes and business enterprise taxes that go to the general fund and used to support public education.”

Nothing in that statement is true.

The scholarships do not divert money from public education. They are public education. Through them, the public partially funds a child’s education at a state-approved private school. To claim that the scholarships hurt public education, Gile and other opponents pretend that the money does not finance a state-approved education. Full editorial here.

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