Will Fairfax follow through with The Great Experiment?

by on April 15, 2012 at 6:29 am in Education | Permalink

Fairfax County schools could become the first in the Washington region to create a virtual public high school that would allow students to take all their classes from a computer at home.

No sports teams. No pep rallies. No lockers, no hall passes. Instead, assignments delivered on-screen and after-school clubs that meet online.

It’s a reimagination of the American high school experience. And it’s a nod to the power of the school choice movement, which has given rise to the widespread expectation that parents should have a menu of options to customize their children’s education.

Several School Board members, who will hear a formal proposal for the online school at a meeting Monday, said they are excited by the prospect.

The full story is here.

1 Richard Quigley April 15, 2012 at 7:15 am

“No sports teams. No pep rallies. No lockers, no hall passes” = NO GIRLS!!!!!!!

Bugger that for a lark, mate!

2 Pup, MD April 15, 2012 at 8:21 am

This seems like a slightly more sophisticated version of Pennsylvania’s Charter Cyber School. As a pediatric psychiatrist, I see kids who “do cyber” because they have a disabling medical condition (chronic migraines, intractable seizures) that make it impossible for them to regularly attend class (having cyber is a good thing), or I see kids who have intense anxiety disorders or maladaptive coping patterns who are school avoidant choose cyber school. In the latter case, most withdrawals into cyber school are an unmitigated disaster, and I see many more of the latter than I do the former (which is of course a function of my position). There are also some home-schooled kids I meet who enter cyber when they get in high school because they are smart , but their parents cannot possibly offer a quality high school education and fortunately have some insight into this (sometimes I see, the large Catholic/Mormon family with 8-10 children has given up on the teenagers and is now focused on the younger children, but still want their children protected from the sins of public schools).

In my line of work, cyber school is frequently a horrible thing, though sometimes a good thing. I don’t know to what degree the population of kids I see differs from the overall cyber school population, though I speculate that the difference is fairly minimal.

3 Saturos April 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm

“In my line of work, cyber school is frequently a horrible thing, though sometimes a good thing.”

Can you elaborate?

4 Becky Hargrove April 15, 2012 at 8:59 am

We need to turn education back into a reintegration with total community, just as it was in earlier times. In the present it is artificical intensity along a narrow baseline, that falls away the moment we graduate. Only now, we can get the nuts and bolts on our own cyber (or book) time, while we use time with others to validate and sharpen our ideas, not to mention much needed social time with others which nonetheless has valuable structure. Teachers with greater knowledge could be available when students actually need them. People in our own communities who have passion for subjects of all kinds can keep libraries on them and direct us to valuable resources. The problem with schools is that we envisioned them in ways where choice and flexibility were taken out of the hands of students at a young age, and they never really got those choices back. Returning children to home and solitude is not the solution, returning education to a free and informal public space, is.

5 Saturos April 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm

“We need to turn education back into a reintegration with total community, just as it was in earlier times.”

This sort of attitude is precisely what Bryan Caplan rails against.

6 Becky Hargrove April 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm

If education is not (ultimately) about relating with others, what is it for?

7 Doc Merlin April 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm

If by “relating to others” you mean living in a panopticon, being bullied by adults, and developing a generic Stockholm syndrome wrt “authority”?

8 Cliff April 16, 2012 at 1:13 am


9 Becky Hargrove April 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Think about what is so special to Caplan, as to the ‘bubble’ he lives in – people all around him who are interested in similar areas of life. Why don’t you think he would want that for others as well?

10 Saturos April 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

Really, it’s a clash of the “Romantic” vs. the “Utilitarian” view of education.

11 Rahul April 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Why is “choice and flexibility” such an important goal? Especially for students at a young age?

I can see a 16 year old being taught subjects of his aptitude but shouldn’t all, say, eight year olds be learning essentially the same things?

12 Becky Hargrove April 15, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Yes at eight years of age they will be needing to learn more of the same things. But through their own motivation they can learn them in a quicker time frame than public school gives them, and have time to take on additional interests.

13 Abir Mandal April 15, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Because I don’t want my kid to learn about the struggles of the neo-feminist experience. Or how OWS is a success of democracy.

14 Becky Hargrove April 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Abir I’m thinking in much more practical terms, about things people actually need to be able to help one another on a regular basis. I’m way too much of a utilitarian for what you suggested. Even so, I would grant everyone the right to promote what they would like to teach and see how any given community responds.

15 NAME REDACTED April 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm

“Even so, I would grant everyone the right to promote what they would like to teach and see how any given community responds.”

1) Community? Yuck. The last thing I want is 300 million little tyrants with no skin in the game deciding what I must learn.
2) *You* don’t “grant” rights, you little fascist.
3) Communities don’t make decisions. If you say they do, you are just trying to obscure the fact that its individuals who make decisions. So really, its going to be a small number of people sitting on a board and being lobbied by others who make those decisions.
4) Keep your hands off my brain, you filthy fascist.

16 Robin Hanson April 15, 2012 at 9:42 am

As Pup says, people with social problems tend to prefer online schools, which makes them a bad signal. And as Bryan will be sure to point out, choosing them also signals non-conformity, which is usually also bad.

17 Bill April 15, 2012 at 9:52 am

Great program for an autistic.

18 Becky Hargrove April 15, 2012 at 11:20 am

Here’s a thought experiment. Our knowledge skills structures are like our personal working environment or business structure, in which the time we utilize a teacher is like the time a business would utilize a consultant. There’s no reason young children can’t work from environments of autonomy and responsibility. I remember a young child who wanted instant math lessons so that he could make change in his family’s yard sale. He figured it out enough to at least help, which added tremendously to his own self-esteem.

19 EMichael April 15, 2012 at 11:40 am

Not counting those who, for various reasons, cannot attend school, I am thinking a new generation composed of Asimov’s Solarians is not a good thing for the US.

20 NAME REDACTED April 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Yes, because being verbally abused and neglected by teachers for 12 years of your life is better. /sarcasm.

21 Zachary April 15, 2012 at 11:44 am

I want to say that high school is about social experiences and character building. I want to say that home schooled kids are weird and it is because they lack the social skills offered by a ‘real’ school. But maybe I am biased. It is possible that they social awkwardness is out weighed by the benefits of a more effective education. And it is further possible that social awkwardness will matter less and less in the future…

22 Andrew' April 15, 2012 at 11:49 am

I came pretty close, though I’m not sure how close considering I only fantasized about it, to taking a weapon to school to end a bully. Is this the “social skills” offered by ‘real’ schools you speak of?

23 EMichael April 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

No, it is the ability to deal with bullies that comprise part of the social skills he speaks of.

As your dealing with your bully shows.

24 prognostication April 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Exactly. I don’t really see how never learning to cope with bullying at all would be an optimal alternative for most people. I was targeted quite a bit until I was maybe 15 or 16, and even occasionally after that until I got out of high school, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it did some serious long-term damage. But it also taught me a lot about group dynamics, about the value of having a circle of friends, about coping, etc. And those are all real world skills that I’m not sure I would have figured out easily any other way.

25 jk April 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Bullying has existed since the dawn of social pecking orders yet bullying or the reaction to bullying can take new forms in terms of bringing a gun to school or cyber bullying which can be more pervasive in some sense via online postings, photos, or youtube.

Do we want to isolate the kids and deny them the “character building” hell that they may encounter in high school? After school special TV programs may preach to stand up to the physically dominate bully but seeing a member of the math club in reality do this and risk physical harm in real life is another issue. It is a social plus that friendships and cliques develop and the pecking order reaches an equilibria so it may be we are denying kids the ability to make friends? Maybe it is harder to meet people in their neighborhood ,or clubs, boy scouts etc.

If the choice is their for the parents and the students, why not? Not all teachers actually care about teaching either, just teach the SAT or state standardized test, so the teacher interaction point is moot. Teachers unions will obviously disagree.

26 NAME REDACTED April 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm

If by “bully” you mean the administration and teachers.
And by “dealing” you mean learning to kowtow and lie so they will leave you alone.

27 casey April 15, 2012 at 11:50 am
28 Thor April 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm

My university offers cyber (distance) courses. Some students like them for convenience — work/study from home — but most students hate them, considering them vastly inferior to the experience of going to a campus with one’s peers and attending classes, events (sporting and academic), functions, seminars, what have you.

29 Rahul April 16, 2012 at 4:08 am

There might be strong arguments for online learning at University level; but when people start making them for primary and middle school I am skeptical.

30 Nigel April 15, 2012 at 2:10 pm

While this seems a pretty silly idea as a full time replacement for High School, it could be a very interesting way to offer courses not available locally at smaller schools.

And Robin, what’s so bad about non-conformity ?

31 Bill April 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Read further in the article:

Your Republican state legislature and governor has required that in order to graduate from public high school, each student must take at least one on-line class.

My, my.


32 Bill April 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm

From the article:

“Virginia is a relative newcomer to full-time online learning, but a series of laws pushed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has created the groundwork for expansion.

In 2010, he successfully backed a bill letting school systems to contract with outside vendors to offer virtual programs. This year, he signed one law establishing licensure rules for online-only teachers and another mandating that high school students take at least one online course to graduate.”

The private vendors, however, are happy.

Although they have to figure out how to get a computer into the hands of a poor child.

33 NAME REDACTED April 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm

“Although they have to figure out how to get a computer into the hands of a poor child.”

Libraries nowadays are mostly just large free computer labs.

34 Bill April 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm

If the libary is open.

35 Bill April 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm


36 NAME REDACTED April 16, 2012 at 12:51 am

Most I have seen are open till 9 PM almost every weekday and on saturdays.

37 Bill April 16, 2012 at 8:30 am


In my city, libraries are closed three days a week, have hours that end at 8pm, and are spaced such that you need a car to get to them conveniently.

I suspect that’s true for most citizens.

Which leads to the second more likely response: that kids will do the online lessons in school.

Fine, you say. But, have you thought about joint costs: you see, the school is still paying someone to supervise the kid, while in a classroom or library, and answer questions, but the online school is not paying for this service. It gets a ride.

38 Doc Merlin April 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Your city sucks. The Library closed 3 days a week? wow!

39 TGGP April 15, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Adam Ozimek says online schools tend to perform quite poorly.

40 Bill April 15, 2012 at 8:42 pm

What I think is interesting here is a different economic principal.

Not online education. Virginia REQUIRES the potential high school graduate to TAKE an online class.

No, what is interesting is that PRIVATE companies and their supporters are opposing the school district’s program to vertically integrate into this method of delivery and compete with them or avoid the cost of paying for the private product.

That’s an interesting story.

41 Sneakers shoes April 15, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate
you writing this post and the rest of the site is very good.

42 Becky Hargrove April 15, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Name Redacted, Doc Merlin,
No School Boards, no public or even private schools, only individuals who can make decisions and individuals who can provide education depending on what someone actually wants – entrepreneurs all who are not told by the state what to teach and how to teach it. Direct democracy – not rule by the majority. Sometimes it’s a drag to be old and still have the language of a once upon a time liberal.

43 NAME REDACTED April 16, 2012 at 12:52 am

Then, I am ok with it.

44 Sonja Myers April 16, 2012 at 5:08 am

Educational choice brings out the true conformists. Suddenly, individuals making real choices about how they lead their lives is a negative to society. Personally, I love the idea that I can shape my children’s educational experience without having to negotiate other people’s assumptions such as bullying is character building (certainly not for the bully), or peer associations in an institutional setting are superior to all other forms of association, or that schools are for socializing and not for educating, or that smart, hard-working children are there to be examples to other children, etc.

45 Rahul April 16, 2012 at 6:18 am

That brings out the point that a lot of these very creative “new education” ideas are more about catering to the parents’ sense of control and choice than they are about something that is objectively better for the child herself.

Are there any studies demonstrating that child-customized online education is better for the child than a conventional school? Then again, I am sympathetic about the genuine cases (e.g. bullying, seizures, genius-level-IQ etc.) but it shouldn’t be reduced to mere parental whim.

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