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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida's love of online education



Over several years, Florida government leaders have made it increasingly easier for students to take school courses online.

Crowded schools are using the system to solve class size problems. Home school families supplement their own lessons with virtual ones. Students in rural communities access courses they don't have available in their local schools.

"Online learning is the future," state House speaker designate Will Weatherford recently told the Gradebook, suggesting that he would push to increase the number of computer-based courses high school students take to graduate. "It will never be the only way that people are educated. But online learning allows you to create a student-centered educational process."

Mother Jones magazine sees a more nefarious goal afoot.

Noting that former governor Jeb Bush once sought to shutter the Florida Department of Education, the liberal-leaning publication writes that Bush -- hailed as an education reformer in conservative circles -- now pushes much the same agenda while talking about transforming rather than dumping the system, with leaders like Weatherford on his side.

And he's using digital learning as a platform, the article contends:

"Bush has couched his initiative in the bipartisan language of reform, claiming it will strengthen public education by making it more efficient, affordable, and accountable. It's the kind of "21st-century thinking" that had Republicans begging him to run for president earlier this year—and if it helps position him for national office and connect him with potential corporate donors, so much the better. But beneath the rhetoric, the online-education push is also part of a larger agenda that closely aligns with the GOP's national strategy: It siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies (including those that are supporting Bush's initiative). And it undercuts public employees, their unions, and the Democratic base. In the guise of a technocratic policy initiative, it delivers a political trifecta—and a big windfall for Bush's corporate backers."

Many questions remain about online education, including the quality of the providers (and Florida recently wrote laws allowing more providers in), and the accountablity for the students (who some teachers suggest don't really do their own work). Then there's the idea of requiring it, even for students who don't have the discipline or the learning skills to operate in such an environment.

Is this push more about money than education? Or is it, as Weatherford put it, the "real world"? 

[Last modified: Monday, October 17, 2011 10:17am]


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