Curriculum delays

Ugh. After waiting 6 weeks for our homeschool order to arrive, I finally was able to get in touch with our district’s homeschool coordinator and find out what was going on. Apparently they had some confusion about what items they could and could not order so they didn’t order anything, nor did they notify me about the problem 😦

Anyway, we decided it would be best if I would place the Sonlight order myself then sort  out reimbursement with the district after items arrived so our school year won’t be delayed any longer (we actually started last Monday, planning for these items to be here by now). So I  submitted the order today. Unfortunately, that meant paying $150 for 2-day Fed Ex shipping since we’re in Alaska. Oh well, at least I know we’ll have all the items soon.

The Rainbow Resource order did finally go through this morning. I recently found out that the chemistry textbook is available as an e-book, but only for I-pads. I’m hoping to find someone to lend me one until the regular textbook arrives so he can begin science sooner.

EDIT: After searching more, I found a pdf of the entire chemistry book. My son needs to download it and make sure it will run on his computer. If it does, that will save hauling around another heavy textbook this year.

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.

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.

How to start homeschooling

The start of the new school year is just ahead for most of us here in the US. I’ve been on Yahoo!Answers this week about homeschooling. Several people have asked how to homeschool, or how to get started homeschooling, so I thought I’d post this brief explanation about different homeschooling options and resources for getting started.

First research the homeschoolilng laws for your state and be sure you comply with them. Each state is different. A great resource is HSLDA There may be requirements about record keeping, reporting, the minimum amount of time spent on schooling (either annual or daily which I think is ridiculous), and the type of things taught in each grade for core subjects.

There are many different varieties of homeschool and homeschooling programs, so you need to decide what will work for you. They can range from online, public school correspondence program, umbrella program, or totally independent. Prices range from free to thousands of dollars, but most spend a few hundred per child.

Some curriculum providers offer full programs with all subjects in a kit. A lot of these companies also offer record keeping service for an additional fee. (this may be referred to as an umbrella program or correspondence study instead of homeschool by some purists, but don’t worry about that) Examples of these companies include Christian Light Education, Sonlight, Abeka, Bob Jones, and Calvert. A lot of new homeschoolers will use one of these programs their first year as they get used to homeschooling and figure out their teaching and learning styles.

My friend has had good luck with Sonlight and continues to use the full program. Abeka and Calvert are closest to traditional school curriculum so don’t always work well for homeschool. I didn’t like Abeka because it was too scripted and bored my kids literally to tears.

There are also companies that specialize in just a single subject such as math, reading, or science. Most of the companies mentioned above also allow you to order just individual subjects rather than the full package, but you can’t be part of their record keeping program if you do. (Calvert is an exception. You must do the full package only with them.) This allows you to pick and choose among companies to custom design a program to fit your needs, interests, and budget. That is what I do. Rainbow Resource is a terrific homeschool supply store for getting books, workbooks, kits, and other materials.

Then there are unit studies you design yourself. This can be a lot of work and is more likely to lead to gaps in your child’s education. However, it has been successful for families too.


Procrastination and group projects

I have never really liked group projects.  The thought that part of your grade depends upon the work of someone else is frustrating and scary. It can be fine if everyone pulls together and does a good job on their part. However, it can be horrible if people slack off or don’t work at all.

I had a group project for one of my online classes. It was assigned 3 weeks ago. There were 4 people in the group. About 2.5 weeks ago, one of the group members got busy and posted a rough draft of the initial part for the project. I then took it and did a write up about her chart. We asked the others to do writeups about the other things we were to discuss. Nothing got done.

Last week the first woman and I completed our parts of the project. We reminded the other 2 members about getting theirs in soon enough so we can review them and include it in the final project. Nothing got done.

While we were waiting, the other woman and I decided we’d better go ahead and do the rest of the project just in case. It is due this week. We each chose one of the other parts and got busy. By Wednesday, we had a complete rough draft of the full project. Thursday (just 3 days before it is due), one of the other members sent her part in. Unfortunately, she analyzed the wrong thing. We notified her as well as the instructor of this and asked her to redo it right away. Still no word from the 4th member of the group.

Yesterday afternoon we hadn’t heard anything from the woman about redoing her part, not even acknowledging she got the messages about it being the wrong thing. Nor had we heard from the 4th member at all. Ugh! After several e-mails back and forth, the other woman and I decided to just go ahead and do a final version without either of them, since we already had a version their parts done anyway.

So I got it all finalized. She did a final proof read and this morning, it was submitted for grading. We left off the other 2 members names and notified the instructor our reasons.  2 hours later, I got an e-mail from the last team member with her part. We didn’t even know for sure she had been working on it. Talk about procrastination and lack of communication!

I wrote her back and told her it was too late, that we already completed and turned in the project without her. So this 4 person group project turned into a 2 person team project because of lack of communication and procrastination. Very frustrating, especially since this is a college course. There is no excuse for that type of procrastination in a group project at this level.

We needed their parts a week ago to properly work it into the overall project. Even early this week would probably have been OK. But the afternoon before the whole thing is due? NO! I’m sorry, that’s way too late. I’m glad we went ahead without them, but it made for a very stressful week. I really hope we get a good grade, because basically we had to do double the work, for the same number of points.

Who has your kids?

There was a disturbing article in today’s newspaper about two young children who were taken from an Anchorage public school by OCS (office of children’s services) workers. It was supposed to be for a parental visit. Just one problem: they picked up the wrong kids!

That’s right. The state agency removed the wrong kids from the school. The agency’s excuse was that the regular worker was out sick and this was someone else who apparently got the name wrong because these kids and the correct ones had similar names.

In the meantime, the mother calls the school and was told OCS had the kids. She called OCS and was told they didn’t have any kids with those names. The mix-up was eventually discovered and the kids returned in about 45 minutes.

So a big problem here. First, why did the school not require verification of who was to be picked up? When I worked at an elementary school, they required documentation stating the CORRECT names of the child to be picked up by anyone other than the parent or legal guardian. So why was this basic policy not followed by the school? If it had been they would have known these were the wrong kids right away and not have allowed them to go with OCS.

So what if the names were similar! If they aren’t the same, they aren’t the right kids. Just because it is a state agency taking them shouldn’t mean they don’t verify who they are taking is correct. The social worker and school should have both verified they were the correct kids before removing them from the school.  The kids are age 6 and 8. As it was, neither the school or social worker checked to be sure they had to right kids.

It’s all fine and good to say the kids should not have gone with them. Stranger danger and all that, but this is a public school, where kids are taught to go unquestioningly with adults they don’t know. The kids just assume it will be all right since the school said it was ok to go. At least they didn’t try to stop the social worker in front of the kids, so that implied consent to a child’s mind.

I’m glad nothing really bad happened to the kids. The school probably verified the social worker’s identity, so why not also the names kids to be taken? Can any social worker show up and take kids like this without verification of the child’s identity? How naive! How scary!

The school and OCS need to seriously review how they handle these kinds of transactions so incidents like this never happen again. The social worker should be fired, and probably the school worker who allowed the kids’ release too.

Dumbing down education

I am taking online college courses through a well respected university. They are pretty interesting. The format is more like guided study than distance education because while there is no lecture, there are still weekly assignments, periodic quizzes, research papers, and a final exam. You log-on to a system called Blackboard. Here you can view the assignments each week, turn in completed items, and take quizzes.

Part of the weekly assignments is a discussion board posting. You are supposed to post an original though about an assigned topic by Thursday midnight. Then you have  until midnight on Sunday to post responses to two other students’ posts. It is expected to use proper grammar and spelling in your posts. Some classes have additional requirements such as APA formatting if research is done for the post. The discussion board is graded depending upon how well you follow the requirements. They are usually worth a quarter to a third of the weekly grade, so while not hard, they are important. Keep in mind, these are college courses so this shouldn’t be very hard for students to follow these basic requirements.

However, I’m finding the opposite to be true. We are now halfway through the term. Students are still doing late postings. For the course with APA requirements (in text citations and a list of references), several students still aren’t doing that even though the instructor gave examples of how she expected them to be formatted for the first 3 weeks.  Some students aren’t even giving a list of references, much less trying to do it in APA format.

Improper grammar is also fairly common in discussion board postings. I’m not meaning picky things either like the correct use of “it’s” and “its”. I mean basic things like complete sentences. Believe it or not, some don’t even use complete sentences. They just use phrases to answer the assigned questions. Others use “texting” phrases and spelling such as just a “u” instead of spelling out “you”.

It’s not just the students either. One of my instructors recently wrote “gonna” instead of “going to” in responding to a student post. How can they grade students down for improper grammar when they don’t even use it themselves?

This is frustrating for students like myself who try to follow the requirements. Late posts are difficult to respond to because they don’t give other students time to ponder them, especially if they are posted days late. To me, texting spelling and grammar is difficult to understand. If I can’t understand your post, how can I respond? Your inability to follow basic requirements negatively impacts the quality of my education.

Not using proper formatting is lazy. It doesn’t take that much extra time to do it right so you get full credit. Do they not understand this or just not care? I would assume many regular universities have similar problems. Why waste your money on college courses if you aren’t willing to do the work for a good grade?

If they  are taking shortcuts in classes, how successful will they be in real life when we need to apply what we learn? I would not place much value on a professional letter of recommendation or an applicant’s letter of intent if it is loaded with texting jargon and incomplete sentences yet they have a college degree.

Our use of texting and IM is having an undesired effect on students. Work is lazy. I’m sure there were lazy students before, but this is making it worse. IM and texting is great for informal conversations, but has no place in college assignments.