The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 11, 2013

Taxpayers not getting good return on cyber schools

Daily Item

---- — Bricks and mortar school leaders make a convincing case that cyber education in Pennsylvania is a publicly-financed boondoggle simply by citing the number of dollars siphoned into online learning, compared to the overhead costs of moving entire communities in and out of the classrooms of traditional education.

Cyber costs run $9,000-$10,000 a year for kids with regular needs and $17,000-$19,000 for students with special needs, not a lot less than what it takes to haul, feed and shelter a student community 180 days a year.

When they cite the competitively dismal outcomes of cyber-taught students, it seems that Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer are not getting anywhere nearer to a competent return on investment from online learning than they were experiencing at good old Central High -- but this time, without the holiday concert, spring play and fall football.

So if cyber learning produces no better education, at about the same expense and zero fun for anyone, why bother?

Safety, values and the inescapable march of time and technology are cited most often in discussion of this topic.

If you count the number of keyboards clicking away in the most-recently constructed or rehabilitated high school, it does seem counterintuitive to drag everybody younger than 17 within a 20-mile radius into a building just to plug them into a computer lab for webinars and online tutorials.

The debate narrows toward individual safety, family values and avoiding discomfiting side effects of socialization -- the sometimes dispiriting and irrational pack sorting that occurs as humans approach mating years at diverse genetically-coded velocities.

The magnetic characteristic of cyber cloistering so far has been to create some psychologically comfortable distance from each other, a phenomenon which both removes us from the judgment of others and the responsibility to temper such utterances.

It is Facebook versus face time, self-conscious versus self-confident. Life now offers a semi-functional hiding place for and from rudeness. This has little to do with education's value proposition -- whether the knowledge imparted is useful, sequential, accommodating or justified in terms of the competence it instills, the pace at which it is delivered or the future it promises.

Until the focus shifts from the self-sustaining interests of the suppliers to the life-enhancing value for the customers, neither point of view in this debate is likely to gain much sway for public support.