McCain on Virtual Learning

Mark Warner’s comments last night about connecting education to the needs of today’s economy, made me wonder how, as a nation, we can ensure that “every kid will be trained for the jobs of the 21st Century.” This is a hard task, but technology is one clear catalyst. John McCain is committed to providing more high quality educational options for students and parents by expanding support for virtual learning. As opposed to the normal school day, virtual learning makes education available all day, every day, and provides the opportunity for instruction tailored to each individual student’s needs. Students can keep learning as long as they want and even on the weekends and throughout the summer. When one of my children fell behind in school because of a prolonged illness, he was able to take online courses in the summer which kept him on target with his classes when school began that fall. According to recent survey data, 47 percent of high school students want to take an online course. And, K-12 online learning enrollments are growing 30 percent annually nationwide. Senator McCain recognizes the importance of meeting this demand and encouraging its growth.

John McCain will target $500 million in current federal funds to build new virtual schools and support the development of online course offerings for students. These courses may be for regular coursework, for educational enhancement and support, or for dual enrollment into college. He will allocate $250 Million through a Competitive Grant Program to support states that commit to expanding online education opportunities (such as virtual math and science academies to help expand the availability of AP Math, Science, and Computer Sciences courses, online tutoring support for students in traditional schools, and foreign language courses). And, he will offer $250 Million for Digital Passport Scholarships to help students pay for online tutors or enroll in virtual schools. This investment provides opportunities for every student–those that don’t have access to a highly qualified teacher; those who may be falling behind academically, or those who want to get ahead.

Using technology as a delivery platform provides a cutting edge experience to students. It provides for unlimited learning, promotes student ownership of their learning and allows for more customization of the learning experience. Unfortunately, Senator Obama does not say a word about online learning in his expansive (and expensive) platform.

Today, over 85 percent of young children (and 94% of teenagers) with home computers use them for educational purposes, typing reports or surfing the Internet to do research. Enhancing our schools’ and families’ ability to use technology for learning is one way to ensure that more of our students are ready for the jobs of the 21st Century. – And, it’s a necessary one in this high tech world.

– Guestblogger Virginia Walden Ford, Education Policy Adviser, McCain08



10 Replies to “McCain on Virtual Learning”

  1. This is not my area of expertise, but I wonder about the efficacy of online learning. I don’t have any idea if there have been studies showing the amount of learning that occurs in online courses vis a vis bricks and mortar learning. I guess it would have to relate to the robustness of the course. It seems to me that the easiest “wins” benefits would be for independent enrichment and tutoring of basic skills – math fact review, vocabulary, spelling, etc. I imagine it’s hard to have a reading or writing conference online.

    Here’s one concern I have:

    “Students can keep learning as long as they want and even on the weekends and throughout the summer.” My sense is that students who are motivated to focus on learning around the clock will be learning without online schools. It’s the kids who need direction, motivation, etc. that I’m not sure about. Will they opt in to these opportunities without the close relationships that bricks and mortar schools have the opportunity to develop.

  2. Yeah, believe it or not, computers do not teach kids. Virtual learning is a cool buzzword and computer folks salivate at the thought of all the precious tax dollars flowing to software development. It’s baloney.

    Please, Virginia, write about something meaningful. Like how McCain plans to create policies that improve TEACHING. I will vote for him in a heartbeat if he does this. So far, all you’ve blogged about is window dressing.

  3. Keep in mind that his platform does not include support for Net Neutrality — the idea that all traffic on the web should be treated equally. The opposite of Net Neutrality is giving your ISP the right to charge you more for certain types of content. For example, if your ISP also sells phone service, they might choose to charge more for your Internet service if you want to use it for voice chat, since that would compete with their phone service. If your ISP partners with one online learning company, they might charge more for accessing other companies’ sites. Charging extra for access to online learning capabilities (which work -exactly- the same as normal web traffic) will contribute to the gap between students whose families can afford those resources and students whose families can not.

    So, if you are interested not just in online opportunities for students but for those opportunities being available equally to all students, then you should probably look for candidates that support Net Neutrality.

  4. John McCain will target $500 million in current federal funds to build new virtual schools and support the development of online course offerings for students.

    Isn’t this better left to the free market? My home state, Washington, already has a wide variety of on-line schools that are doing just fine; why invest half a billion dollars into a sector that is already showing that it can take care of itself?

    Plus, the thought that AP could be offered on-line strikes me as laughable.

  5. These aren’t guest posts, they are press releases.

    A true guest blogger would not only respond to comments, but also know the audience. For example, she would figure out that readers of a site called eduwonk are probably aware of the research about technology and computers in education.

    Whenever I hear someone talking about using technology without a specific example, I pretty much assume they have no idea what they are talking about.

    Online education has it’s place, but it certainly isn’t going to end the achievement gap or solve our K-12 education problems.

  6. Rory nailed it. Note to Obama person next week — we’ve read the campaign websites already.

    Possible solution for next time: feature a McCain partisan and Obama partisan with no official ties to the campaign, thereby free to mix it up?

  7. In the right context, virtual learning can be great. It could be used to provide both time and pacing flexiblity. Particularly for middle school and high school students.

    But it could never replace quality reforms in classroom instruction, in curricula development nor of the quality of the assessments that we administer to students. And for the time being the great majority of our students learn (or not) in a classroom. Real improvements need to start there.

    Again, this virtual learning initative seems more like window dressing than any genuine leadership in improving our schools.

  8. I think if we look at the virtual learning proprietors, we find that they have found a way to make a buck. It’s what all teachers long to do; get out of the classroom, tout their fantastic pedagogy as “the one” and go out and sell it. For a lot of money. Then retire.

    Follow the money.

  9. Up to this point, perhaps, virtual learning has been looked down upon, but I think the McCain campaign actually got this one right, looking back on it. I also suspect that our new president will make similar policy endorsements because there’s no way to deny the NEED for online schooling. The population, the jobs available to them, the cost of transportation, etc… Are all bottlenecks for people who also have to pay for college, so this cheaper option is required. How will the healthcare industry of the future survive without all those (legitimate) physician assistant online degree programs? There’s simply no other way to train all those people with programs at brick-and-mortar schools full and backed up with people wanting to get in.

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