Do virtual schools have to be about “warehouse teaching”?

Many of us believe that new forms of learning that are self-organised and encourage self-starting resilience can be better than the traditional models. But we must be alive to the risks and the “other side of the coin” all the time.

This account (possibly not impartial, but neither are many accounts) paints a dystopian picture of a future where learning online means less peer engagement and “certified teachers in cubicles who respond to questions and check homework”. Very much a factory and warehouse model to achieve economies of scale in an old-school (forgive the pun) Fordist way. (I’ve included some of the headline claims on this below, but click through for much more detail at a state-by-state level.)

Does it have to be this way? Won’t the tools for self-organising online also enable virtual spaces that are more like village schools than warehouses? Admittedly you might need teaching staff to be confident and competent in a wide range of interventions rather than just box-checking in cubicles. But this could still scale up, and could still “do more with less”.

Thanks to Tony Hall for passing this on via the Everything Unplugged group (!/groups/177905155586046/).

Clipped from

Outsourcing education: The rise of virtual schools

There are a growing number of American young people for whom “going to school” is now logging in at the family computer.

Virtual schools—those conducting all lessons via the Internet, as opposed to “brick and mortar” traditional schools—are now entrusted with the education of children as young as kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. An estimated 1.5 million American youth participate in online education today.

While a slash-and-burn campaign is destroying public education, the Internet revolution has been seized upon to force children to teach themselves—sometimes partially and sometimes entirely.

Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made no secret of the relationship between cuts and “reforms,” urging school districts to “do more with less.” [2]

Doing more with less—at least the latter is true. A survey on 20 virtual charters in 14 states indicates the cost of online learning is “roughly half that of traditional public schools” or about $4300, according to a Brookings Institute study. [3]

There is less social interaction, less collective learning, less peer engagement and less individual attention and certainly less teachers—and teachers with less benefits, less job security and less resources. But there is more profit for the education industry. In fact, simple math would indicate a $4300 per child cost would translate into $2,000 or more per student profit, depending on the state’s allocation from taxpayer funds. Without the hard costs of buildings, maintenance or transportation, virtual schools clearly can entice districts facing extreme budgetary pressures.

Some virtual charters require a parent or adult to sign a contract as an “education coach,” some employ “facilitators,” and some house groups of certified teachers in cubicles who respond to questions and check homework. To the producers of the Brookings report, this kind of warehouse teaching means “virtual charter schools offer the promise of increasing the productivity of the education system.” Clearly the potential increase in the ratio of students to teachers dramatically impacts what is considered productivity.



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