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Cyber Schooling is a better option for some
Chasing Education for Our Kids
No Child Left Behind.. Really?
No child left behind was a game changer for the public education system. The concept was simple enough. Test student at intervals to ensure that children are meeting basic education standards. As an incentive for schools to do well; reward them with access to increased funding and services that benefit the children. If the school does not do well then label them as a failing school and reduce funding or closed them down.
While at it's core the concept of keeping making sure kids maintain minimum standards is great. Tying the results to the schools ability to receive funding was a horrible mistake. Schools need funding to offer services to students. Without funding they struggle to improve or have to reduces services that help kids.
They are now driven to to meet AYP (Annual yearly progress) goals. The panic associated with meeting these goals changes how students are taught today. Priority has shifted from teaching students how to learn to now training students to pass minimum standards on assessment tests. Take a moment and read this last part again "training students to pass minimum standards on assessment". The consequence has resulted in near panic mentality in some schools to march mass amounts of students through repetitive training and practice tests for more than 1/2 a school year. If a student is having issues or struggling with concepts they are cast aside and labeled as problems and left to underperform and struggle. Frustrated parents are often left fighting the schools to put structure in place to help their children and at time take up legal battles just to obtain IEP (Individualized Education Plans) so their children have a fighting chance.
Sadly so many kids with the potential to do more are being pushed to the outside and left to rot without tools to help them learn.
Are Traditional Schools teaching to pass the test?
Here is Pennsylvania we have the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment). Students in grades 3,4,5,6,7 and 8 must take a language arts and math test. Student is 4th and 8th must take the science test.
The school district we live in does very well on the PSSA and receives a lot of funding because of it. Let's take a look at how they accomplish this?
We have a 9 month school year. Running from the end of August to Early June every year. Starting in 2nd grade students are administered portions of practice PSSA examinations where the worksheets are actual pages from previous exams.
In the third grade and above the PSSA are administered at the end of the year (May). Test preparation starts in March. Once test preparation starts all lessons and worksheets are based on practice PSSA questions. From March to May the kids are drilled on how to score well on the test. A full 1/3 of the year where they are not being taught. A full 1/3 of the year lost because the school has to do well.
The sad part of this, is that it is too late. If a child does not do well on the PSSA it is too late that year to intervene. If a teacher is not doing well it is too late that year to make a change since the results do not come back until mid-summer. For that year, that childs education opportunity is lost. The next year child will have a new teacher, with new grade level requirements. This teacher will have to get their class though the PSSA. The deck is stacked against the struggling child in such a way they will never catch up. This is because the feedback needed to help that child is always too late!
The children are being trained how to pass the test, and no longer being taught how to learn. Many are getting lost without the ability to help themselves. Missing are key skills that we used to teach, like how to research, how to study and form their own opinions by exploration. I have seen it with my own kids, and have heard similar concerns from many other parents. The minute you stray from the parameters of the exam they get lost. They don't know how to process it, how to study, how to research. An entire generation of students spoon fed how to pass scoring exams that are not learning how to learn.
There seems to be a distinct difference in teaching style between pre and post No Child Left behind teachers. There is evidence to suggest that teachers that had experience teaching before No Child Left Behind was enacted tend to instill core learning behaviours into kids. They also tend to be better equipped to help struggling student catch up or get back on track. Teachers post No Child Left Behind struggle more with children who do not fit into the mold. Our personal experience so far matches this. Our oldest son has ADHD combined with a high IQ. His 1st and 3rd Grade teachers were younger and post No Child Left Behind. Both of these Teachers had issues keeping him on task and struggled with getting him though the curriculum.
His second grade teacher was a seasoned experienced teacher that taught him how to study. My son Flourished in 2nd grade and was a top student. By the end of 3rd grade he was sent to read by himself and ignored so the class could complete the PSSA.
In a way I feel like training kids to pass the test is cheating the spirit of the system. If we want the students to be tested against standards then let it be against the merits of their learning ability and teachers ability to teach a child learn and study. These are the skill that matter. These are the skills that will last a lifetime.
A different learning experience with Cyber Schooling
Let me start with this. Cyber schooling is not for every family. It requires a unique commitment from the parent to act as the learning coach with you home student. While the teacher will teach the lesson the learning coach in Cyber School will act as an extension of the teacher to assist the student. It can be a large time commitment from a parent to fill this role. But it does have it's rewards.
Curriculum Based Assessments in Cyber Schools
When we decided to start Cyber schooling we evaluated a few options in our state. We found that all the ones we evaluated practices curriculum based assessments ongoing though the school year. While they do take the PSSA test for Pennsylvania, they do not practice the test. They believe in teach the subject matter and learning skills first. I like this approach. Let the test results, good or bad reflect the teaching ability of the school. As a parent I would like to have a realistic picture of what the school is capable of.
Transparency into your students learning style
You do not have to wait for parent teacher conferences to understand where and with what your student struggle with. The Cyber School learning coach model lets you support you student where and when they need it. Your student, while part of a virtual classroom, will also receive one on one attention to help practice the lesson.
Higher Expectations in Cyber School
My daughter was a A+ student at her former school. Always top of her class and excelled in all lesson. She scored 63% on her entrance assessment for cyber school. We found huge holes that we did not know were there in math skill and reading comprehension. There were concepts she could explain, but could not apply the practical application. We worked on a coaching plan to bring her up to standards and in three week made huge strides in filling the gap. The noticeable difference is that by learning concepts and how to apply them she no longer gets tripped up if you change the format of the problem. She has been able to apply what she has learned outside of a test context. Awesome!!
My son was entering the 4th grade. In a few weeks he as improved from thinking and writing in bullet sentences, convinced he was a bad writer. To two page essays where you can hear his voice in the story. He is blossoming under the new learning style and tapping in the potential that was there, but that only one teacher so far has cared to nurture. He is Proud of what he is learning.
What I love the most, is that I get to hear and see more of how the kids are learning. Both the problems and wins. Every night they are excited to tell me what they are learning. They want to show me what they did that day. I get to see the lessons and help coach them where I can. I have a background in Art and technology. I enjoy working on those lessons with them and be a guide. It is heartwarming and beautiful.
I will not lie to you, it is hard work getting started. The paradigm shift is huge. There is a large time commitment, especially in the beginning when it all feels new and awkward. Converting to Cyber school is something you have to commit to succeeding in from the start. You will have moment of failure, we all did. You have to find you Cyber Learning Groove. You have to experiment and find the best path to learning for you child. However once you do the reward of moving to cyber school is worth the work, at least for us. I can honestly say that we are now in a true partnership with the school for our children's education.
Cyber School Works
The long term data for cyber school children in college is still coming in. Early results show cyber schooled kids entering college fair close to Home Schooled kids. That is 30+ points ahead of traditionally educated counterparts. The dropout rate is also much lower.
If you are considering making the switch because you do not feel like you child's needs are being met I will recommend to not wait. Your suspicions about your school and the education your child is receiving are correct. The school will not change, and you and your child are wasting time. If we had one regret, it is that we did not pull them out mid-year when our guts were telling us it was the right thing to do. We waited. Cyber school was the right decision for us and I wish we had not hesitated. I wish I had someone telling you, like I am now, Don't wait.
This is our school!
Who is learning where?
What schooling options are you planning for?
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