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Friday, February 11, 2011

Revolution - Or Not?

With near lightning speed, thousands and thousands of people in two different countries organized mass protests that eventually relieved themselves from the burden of autocratic rulers in the last thirty days. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were aided and abetted by social media technology. Digital images taken by cell phone cameras and transmitted, together with text messages and the exploitation of computers and the Internet in general all conspired to serve as a vehicle for people to express themselves and to organize. While it remains to be seen what shape the new governments take as both countries enter uncharted waters and uncertain futures, the quick transformations clearly demonstrate the impact of technology and social media. Now, contrast that with the apparent inability of these same technologies to stimulate a revolution in our public schools. I am not implying that technology has eluded public schools. Instead, I am referring to the difficulty we face at Heatly to introduce on-line courses as a result of potential bureaucratic obstacles created by the New York State Board of Regents.

The Regents are examining a proposal as we speak, that would impose rather severe restrictions on on-line service providers and the schools who wish to engage in working partnerships with these service providers. We are very interested in adding on-line courses to our instructional menu for next year. Our small size prevents us from offering more than a few elective courses beyond the state minimum. This leaves our learners at a disadvantage when compared with the opportunities available at much larger high schools who can leverage their size and scale to supply learners with many electives in a far more robust curriculum.

There are a number of companies providing on-line courses. On Wednesday, I visited a school using the Virtual High School on-line program. It was an impressive experience. However, it is expected that the Regents will soon pass guidelines that may preclude such programs. The restrictions inherent in the proposed policy would require core subjects delivered by the district's New York certified teachers. Although all of the on-line providers we are examining as possible suitors employ certified teachers, only one requires that the teachers are certified in New York. And those teachers would not be "district" employees but rather employees of the on-line service provider. While educators and policy makers may argue over the semantics of words, like "core," "district," and "deliver" and define and redefine these terms, we anxiously await the final ruling to determine whether we can operate an on-line program that would comply with state policy.

Granted, no school and no learner should be subjected to an improperly managed program or ineffective teachers. Yet, the refusal of our state education department to affirm and accept the credentials of certified teachers from other states could jeopardize our ability to offer expanded learning opportunities at Heatly. These elective on-line courses are necessary for our survival as an independent educational entity. We already offer mandated core courses necessary for graduation. However, if we expect to meet our responsibility to offer enriched learning experiences that will allow our graduates to be competitive with graduates of larger schools that routinely present their learners with a broad range of course selections, we'll need the Regents to make allowances and grant flexibility in their policy.

We'll find out soon enough.

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