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7.2 Why Online Programs can not Replace Real Schools

Half of all low income students lacked access to a computer at home.

Sadly, the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, is not only grossly mistaken about the number of people who will be killed by the corona virus, he is also mistaken in claiming that online programs can take the place of in-school, in person instruction. This has led him to grossly underestimated the harm of closing our public schools. We will therefore devote this section to summarizing the benefits of in person instruction over online programs.

These differences include:

#1 Online Instruction only works for some age groups.

#2 Online Instruction only works for some income groups.

#3 Online instruction only works for some learning styles.

#4 Online instruction only works for some subjects.

#5 Online instruction only works for some locations.

#6 Online instruction often leads to low student engagement

#7 Online instruction greatly increases the odds of at-risk students dropping out of school.

#8 Online instruction places a huge burden on working parents – preventing parents from doing their own jobs.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these problems of online instruction (or if you prefer to think in positive terms, let’s look at the benefits of in-school, in-person instruction).

#1 Online Instruction only works for some age groups. Many child development researchers have maintained that introducing students to computer screens before the Third Grade is harmful to their cognitive, emotional, social and physical development.

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The first four years of school (Kindergarten and the first three grades) are a pivotal time when students build learning habits that will stay with them for the rest of their schooling and the rest of their life.

Elementary schools are not merely teaching these kids their ABCs and 123s. They are teaching them important social skills such as how to relate to each other and share books - and important emotional skills such as how to use words instead of fists when they have a disagreement. This important skills can not be taught on a computer. There is another problem with the early grades. There is a huge range of brain development in all classrooms right through the Fifth grade. Experienced elementary school teachers realize this and plan their learning activities with a range of options for different students in their class.

What is crucial is the direct teacher- student interaction so that the teacher can see and give immediate feedback to students and adjust learning activities on the spot to deal with individual differences in their classroom.

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#2 Online Instruction only works for some income groups.
There is a huge difference in access to computers and access to the Internet between students in lower income families and students in higher income families. The digital divide is the difference in access to technology suffered by students from poor families and low income school districts compared to students from middle class and wealthy families from higher income school districts.

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Many low income students do not have Internet access in their homes. Their parents simply cannot afford $50 to $100 per month for Internet access. These low income students therefore are at an extreme disadvantage to students who are able to access the Internet from home in terms of completing and turning in their homework assignments during evenings and weekends. For example, a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that out of America's 30 million families with school age children, nearly 20% or 5 million families lacked Internet access. This lack of Internet access was most pronounced among lower income families. Almost half of all low income homes with school aged children lacked Home Internet Access. Even one in four medium income families lacked Home Internet Access. But of those families making over $50,000 per year, over 90% had high speed Internet access in their homes. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/20/the-numbers-behind-the-broadband-homework-gap/

A similar study found that families with Home Internet access also had student access to a computer at home while low income families without Internet access also lacked student access to a computer at home. Half of all low income students lacked access to a computer at home while only 6% of middle to high income students lacked access to a computer at home. http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=home-computer-access

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In Kent, about 9 percent of students, or roughly 2,500 kids, can’t access the Internet once they go home, district surveys show. Many of them are the poorest students, the very ones district officials believe would benefit from more exposure to technology to help them catch up to their more advantaged peers.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/12/what-happens-when-kids-dont-have-internet-at-home/383680/

“It becomes a civil rights issue. Low income students are being denied equal access to knowledge and information that is part of education in the 21st century.” Edward Vargas, Superintendent of the Kent School District

Another study found that lack of home Internet access not only prevented students from completing their homework assignments – but also reduced their ability to participate in class discussions the following day. Nearly all parents recognize the need for home Internet access. However many low income families simply cannot afford the monthly cost.

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Closing the International Internet Gap
Giving every student access to a high quality fully functioning state of the art laptop only solves half of the problem. As we have already noted, half of all students from low income families in Washington state - and the rest of the United States - also lack high speed Internet access. The Internet system in the US is not only among the most expensive in the world, it is also among the slowest in the world.

It is unfair to expect our kids to compete with kids from other nations, when kids in other nations have access to a much better Internet system at a much lower price. It is like handing our kids a bicycle and expecting them to win a "Race to the Top" against kids who have been handed a race car!

Here is a chart showing the average download speed in various nations around the world.

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According to a study by the OECD, the average Internet speed in the US is about half the Internet speed in other developed nations.

http://www.oecd.org/internet/broadband/oecdbroadbandportal. html

Only it is even more unfair than this because students in the US have to pay much higher prices for Internet access than students in other nations. A 2014 study by a group called New America found that for 25 MBPS access, a modest high speed connection, the average price in the US was about $60 per month while in many nations the same service was less than $40 per month. (See below for link and next page for graph).

https://static.newamerica.org/attachments/229-the-cost-of-connectivity-2014/OTI_The_Cost_of_Connectivity_2014.pdf

What is Causing the High Prices and Low Speeds of Internet Access in the US?
There are two factors driving high Internet access prices and low Internet speeds in the US. The first is that many Internet Service Providers are granted a monopoly over local markets by corrupt government officials. With a monopoly, a corporation has no incentive to improve service or lower prices. Second, nations with the highest speeds and lowest costs have had governments that invest in building the Internet structure in their country.

This has resulted in some countries, especially Scandinavian countries, having both very high speed service and very low prices. These same countries offer students free access to high quality computers and the students in these same countries are among the highest performing students in the world on International tests.

#3 Online instruction only works for some learning styles
It has been known for more than 50 years that students can have vastly different learning styles. An experienced teacher can work directly with a student with a different learning style by giving them activities that help them learn using the learning style they are most suited to.

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Some learners are visual learners while some learners are text learners. Some learn through a global process of fitting subjects to a whole while others are linear learners and prefer tasks to be organized in a 1, 2, 3 step process. Linear learners tend to do much better in online programs than global learners because all online programs are linear in nature. Unfortunately only half of all learners are linear learners.

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#4 Online instruction only works for some subjects. Some subjects like math are linear in nature and often have only one right answer. If a student is older, and has internet access and a reasonable computer and a linear learning style, they might do well in an online math course. Others subjects like History and English are much more complex and can have more than one right answer. These subjects require real time class discussions and interactions. They are not good subjects for an online program.

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#5 Online instruction only works for some locations
Where students live also presents huge connectivity problems. Kids living in rural areas are much more likely to be unable to connect to high speed Internet from their homes.

#6 Online instruction often leads to low student engagement
Students in real schools are engaged in learning because of their direct interaction with their teacher and with other students (for example in small group project based activities). Sitting at home alone in front of a computer screen without direct contact with other students and the teacher causes students with limited attention spans to wonder off into day dreaming or playing video games.

The amount of actual on-task learning time is almost non-existent with all by the most highly motivated and self-directed students.

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Many teachers have seen class attendance drop by 50% since the move to online classes. Often the problem is that several members of a family need to use the only computer to go online at the same time.

Many students are sharing computers with several siblings, including ones home from college, along with parents trying to do full time work at home on limited internet bandwidth.

#7 Online instruction greatly increases the odds of at-risk students dropping out of school.
Not only are online programs a disaster for elementary school students, they are also a disaster for struggling, at risk older students.

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#8 Online instruction places a huge burden on working parents – preventing parents from doing their own jobs.
If the student is at home, then at least one of the parents also needs to remain home. Even for a parent that is allowed to work from home this can be a major challenge. It can be all but impossible for a parent to get their own work done when they are constantly interrupted by one of more children needing their attention.

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For all of these reasons and many more, online programs are not a substitute for real learning with real teachers in real public schools.

Perhaps the biggest problem is a failure to recognize that students are socially motivated when in school and this motivation is lost in online classes.

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Here is what one teacher said: “It feels like we are doing much, much less than what would normally happen during a day at school. The students just miss each other, they miss school, and they miss us. They are craving interaction. Many are profoundly depressed, they don’t know how to manage time and work throughout the day, many are emailing me at 12 to 4 AM saying they cannot handle the workload without the structured timing of a classroom.”

https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/29/21239567/remote-school-distance-learning-digital-internet-tech-gap-devices-access

If we care about all students getting the education they need and deserve, regardless of their family income, age or learning styles, we must re-open the public schools as soon as possible.