As I write this it is -34F at my house outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. In town it is -42, and over in the community of North Pole it is -45. This morning they had -47 at 10am. The Fairbanks Daily Newsminer had an article about the cold overnight lows with some pictures showing lows down to -60 in some areas. The frigid weather is supposed to start warming up slowly tomorrow then snow in the middle of the week before heading back down to -30. Hopefully it will be warm enough on Thursday for the kids ski lessons. The cut off is -4. Last week was -2 at the start, but dropped to -8 when we left an hour and half later.


This interview from a local homeschool group has some good points about independent homeschooling that may be of interest to others.

More trouble for online schools

While there are many good ideas in education reform, the education system in the US is experiencing growing pains as it attempts to enter and keep up with the digital world. Maine is the latest state to say no to subcontracting its online schooling with K12. I just discovered an article from earlier this month, Maine denied applications from both K12 and Connections Academy to run public school online programs in that state.

In regards to K12’s application, Amy Carlisle, president of the local board for the proposed Maine Virtual Academy had this to say about her board:

“She also vigorously denied that her board lacked independence from K12 Inc., the Herndon, Va., based online education company that would manage the school, hire and fire its staff and headmaster, and provide curricular materials and assessment data.”

Now if K12 is in charge of major decisions regarding the school including all staffing decisions (including hiring and firing), school management, provides curriculum, and assessment (testing) data, that to me says K12 is pretty much in charge of the school instead of the board.  As a result,

“The charter commission denied the school’s application in a unanimous vote Tuesday, saying that its review team “has no confidence that the governing board of the Maine Virtual Academy can functionally manage the daily education and fiscal responsibilities without staff.”

So what if the board is independent if they are not the ones who actually are managing the school program? They are contracting the work out to K12. This is the second year the board’s application has been denied. Last year was for similar oversight concerns regarding K12. Maine created a law authorizing online public education in 2011.

Good for Maine for not handing over control over the state’s education to big business, especially since their track record is proving less than desirable outcomes for students in other states. However, students should have education options. We just need to find a good balance that takes into account service, cost, and what’s going to have the best outcome for students.

I consider K12 education’s version of the agriculture and food giant Monsanto. Starting small and inconspicuously, they now control a vast majority of all phases of farming and food production in the US and Canada with products ranging  everything from seeds (including many GMO varieties), herbicides like Roundup, pesticides, to mills, and factories. Yes, they do offer useful products, but taken as a whole, they have too much control over a vital industry.

Sticker shock

I got a bit of sticker shock yesterday. My 2 kids are taking cross country ski lessons. Right now we are using some old Karhu waxless touring skis. They are great for ungroomed trails and backcountry skiing. Since they are waxless, there is very little maintenance involved. Plus, the price was right since we got everything used except poles for my son and me.

The kids are growing fast. The boots my son had the last 2 years now fit my daughter. He is using a spare pare of mine, which are actually almost too small already. They are all the old 3-pin style bindings, which are outdated. My daughter’s bindings are literally falling apart. I’ve had to put them back together a few times recently. Rather than change bindings on our skis to work with the new boot styles, I decided it is time to upgrade skis. So yesterday afternoon we went to a local sporting gear shop.

I am dreadfully uninformed about what to look for in quality skis. Thankfully, the sales clerk wasn’t. He took the time to answer all our questions and then had his partner come over to answer those about junior skis he didn’t know. Overall, we spent over half an hour talking to them. My son really needs and wants skate skis. He can still use the old classic ones for now, but apparently you need a different type of ski for doing skate skiing. That would also include new bindings, poles, and boots. Luckily there is a type of boot called a “combi” that can be used for both classic and skate skis (and even with roller skis) as long as the bindings are the same. Eventually we will get him new classic skis with whatever binding he gets for the skate skis. Since my daughter is still small, she can get a “combi” ski until she gets older. Then she too will need separate classic and skate skis.

Now for the sticker shock. A set of boots, bindings, and skate skis for my son was around $600. That’s about $200 more than I was expecting. Since we are the same height, I would need the same package. The junior “combi” ski package for my daughter was about half that. I’m going to a different sports store today to get another perspective on what we need. Then I’ll try the used sports gear shop to see if they have any of what we need that’s more within my budget. Otherwise, it’s probably going to have to wait until fall.

Online school problems

I read today some things that add to my concerns about online public schools. These free programs are available in most states. They allow students access to public school education only the work is done online instead of in a classroom. In theory the idea is good. However, now that they have been around for a few years, the outcomes are proving less than desirable.

Colorado, in particular is experiencing negative results with their online school program. There are 2 news stories in recent news: The Colorado Charter School Institute rejected K12’s application and Colorado Virtual Academy Answers Tough Questions. Colorado has been contracting with K12 (a company that provides services for online schooling) for twelve years. This is one of the oldest online public school programs in the U.S.

According to the articles, the Colorado program currently has a graduation rate of only 22%. They also have a high student turnover, meaning families are signing up then quitting the program in the same year. High school turnover was 50%. They applied to be a charter school, which would mean they won’t need to be sponsored by a school district. However, that application was rejected. The district they are with is currently debating not to go ahead with their renewal. K12 faces closure in Colorado this summer if it is is unable to find a sponsoring district.

I have never used an online school, but have homeschooled my children for 7 years now. The problems I think stem from the theory of being able to learn better online at home isn’t matching up with reality. In theory, the student would work when they are supposed to. They would check in online and meet their deadlines. There would be fewer distractions from other students because they are at home and away from the drama, bullies, and their friends. In theory the parents would be checking up to ensure the students are keeping up.

With traditional homeschooling, the parents are active participants in their child’s education. In a regular school, teachers are actively involved with the students even if the parent’s aren’t. Both equate to high levels of adult supervision. However, with online schooling, the level of direct adult supervision is greatly diminished. It is up to the students to ensure they get their work done. That is a huge responsibility, especially for younger students and students who may not be the most responsible to begin with. (I know I sure wasn’t.) There are no adults to remind you about work in person and watch to see that you are actually working on school when you are supposed to be.

Also, because it is online and there is less direct adult supervision, the risk and temptation of cheating is higher. I’ve seen several online sites from students asking for answers. Not just help understanding one or two problems, but flat out cheating. They are typing in their homework, quiz, or test questions then expecting others to provide the answers. One even got mad when someone said they would not help her cheat. She said this is how she learns rather than actually doing the work! Part of a good education is learning to find answers for yourself, not expecting others to give them to you.

I hear about online students who have trouble concentrating because they are distracted by the online environment. They play on computer games or social media instead of school. A teacher is available to help with students’ questions, but not sure how that works. I doubt they get answers as fast as with a regular teacher or parent being in the same room. This causes deadlines to be missed and students aren’t properly prepared for exams. If students procrastinate so they aren’t making steady progress throughout the semester, they can end up with a huge amount of work still undone at the end of the year. Then they stress and rush to try to get it done. That all results in lower grades. The program gets blamed and families leave or students just give up and quit.

What can be done to alleviate these problems? I’m not sure, but I think parents somehow need to be more responsible for insuring their children do the work. They shouldn’t just assume because their child is signed up for online classes that they are actually doing school and making progress.

Off to the races

Today was a good day for the cross country ski races. It was warm with temperatures in the upper teens and low 20’s, and fresh snow yesterday.

Karen was in the kindergarten through 2nd grade girls group and took 3rd place! Not bad for her very first race. (They were signed up for a race in December, but it was cancelled due to cold weather) We originally thought from the group of kids she was in near the finish that she would be 5th, but one of them was a boy and then she passed a girl right at the finish line to get third place. Her race was 1km.

Richard had a big disadvantage. Most of the others in his group (5th & 6th grade boys) were part of the ski club’s developmental competition team. They practice for 1.5 hours/day most days of the week. His race was 2km long. He finished way last, but did complete it so I’m satisfied. We need to practice more often and do more hill climbing so he can get better. He still wants to learn skate skiing next year. Perhaps we can get a good deal on those skis and boots at the fall ski swap or used from another family. He’ll also need new boots for his current skis. He’s growing fast 🙂

I want to give a big thank you to the Fairbanks Junior Nordics for sponsoring them in these races.

Their next set of lessons begin Thursday night. They will be once a week for 6 weeks. Then in March, they will have lessons twice a week for 3 weeks. After breakup when things dry up, we will hit the trails starting cross country running and biking. Hopefully next fall we will all be in better shape for ski season. This year was mostly a test to see if everyone liked it and how well it fits without schedule. So far, I think it’s working pretty good. As they get older, if they are still interested in competing, we likely will have to put more time into it.

UPDATE: Well, we were right afterall, Karen did officially take 5th out of 9. I don’t know why she was given a 3rd place ribbon. Her 1km time was, 9:43.7  Richard’s 2km time was, 24:21.5 There were 13 boys in his race.


Even by Alaska’s unreliable standards, the weather forecasts have been very poor this winter. Usually they are fairly good about 3 days out, but they can’t even get it right for the same day lately. They keep changing it, sometimes several times in an hour. (yes, I kind of obsess over things like that). Anyway, tonight’s forecast for Friday really is a head scratcher on Weather Underground.

Mostly cloudy. Fog early. High of 10F. Winds less than 5 mph. Chance of snow 20%. Overcast with a chance of snow and rain showers in the evening, then partly cloudy. Fog overnight. Low of -6F. Winds less than 5 mph.

If the high is only supposed to be 10 and it’s supposed to go below zero, how in the world is it supposed to rain? Temperatures need to at least be near freezing (32F) for that to happen. Yes, it does sometimes rain in the middle of the winter here in interior Alaska, but not when it’s near zero all week. Now the possible rain on Sunday with expected temperatures rising from the upper teens to high 20’s makes more sense. If that happens, I’m not looking forward to driving Monday or Tuesday. Luckily, since I’m the boss right now, I can give myself the day off if necessary and put everyone else on minimal schedule so they can stay off the roads as much as possible.