NSBA has long been a leader in educational technology — and that’s no exaggeration. Through its Technology Leadership Network and its regular conferences and site visits, the association has championed technology in the classroom for more than 20 years.
So when NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant questions whether the explosion of online charter schools is causing “too many students to get lost in cyber space,” as she does in her recent Education Week blog, she’s hardly coming from Luddite territory.
“All this has taken place with no research to back it up,” Bryant writes. “In fact, what little research and anecdotal evidence exists on full-time virtual learning shows alarmingly low graduation rates, course completion and test scores.”
A new report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education, Searching for the Reality of Virtual Schools, says the biggest takeaway from its study of this burgeoning field — and market, for profit-making companies — is how little we know.
For example, what impact would increased enrollment in cyber schools have on real communities, many of which have long seen the public schools as key to maintaining strong ties between citizens?
Writes Gary Obermeyer, of Portland, Ore., in response to Bryant’s blog: “While I am a strong believer in and advocate for online learning, I do not support the notion of ‘virtual schools.’ My primary concern is for the health and vitality of communities. Schools should be grounded in communities, so that students’ learning experiences can be tied to local issues/concerns, through which they learn to care about and contribute to the community.”
In fact, technology intelligently used can actually help tie communities together by giving disadvantaged students the tools they need to become more active participants. As Ann Flynn, NSBA’s director of education technology, writes in a letter to the editor this week to the Washington Post:
“Public schools must provide the technology resources that level the playing field for all students, thus allowing them to excel in core content and develop media literacy,” Flynn writes in response to a Post story on the widely varying use of technology in area schools. “The skills supported through appropriate interactions with technology will define the literate person of the 21st century; those without such opportunities will be left behind.”