Saturday, August 13, 2011

Online Education: The Answer To The Housing Crisis

I found out about this about a week ago:
Connections Academy - Free Online School (Thanks to Farker Kimothy for these links; the list is not meant to be complete or all inclusive)

Source: Healthy Living

For me, this is something I've been dreaming about ever since I read The Rowan series by Anne McCaffrey and they talked about something similar. Something like this would have been a dream for me because I was always bored in school, often doing my homework in class and teaching myself what was going on. My teachers and I had an agreement; if they asked a question, and I caught their eye, they knew I knew the answer. That way I wasn't one of those annoying Hermione-types that seem like a know-it-all. If I happened to get it wrong, I would listen to the explanation until I figured out where my mistake was.

Allowing a kid to work at her own pace helps the child learn the information better, by tailoring the lessons to focus on those parts that the child is struggling with. Instead of ramming rote memorization down kids' throats so that they can pass a test, online education can focus more on helping children make the connections so they can properly comprehend the test, even if the answer they get is wrong. Critical thinking is a skill in short supply right now; English teachers I've spoken to struggle with their 101 classes because they are receiving kids who just want to be told what topic to write their term paper on, the answers to the tests, and who expect an A just for showing up everyday. After all, they are "paying" to be there, or so the logic goes.

The real value in online K-12, however, is in that it would eradicate the primary driver in the housing crisis: school districts.

The housing bubble was caused by three things:
1) Easing of lending standards
2) Dual income families with extra cash to spend
3) A desire by families to provide good, safe education for their children

If families couldn't outright purchase education in the form of private schools, they paid for their children's education in housing by moving to the best school districts. This created a shortage of housing in those areas, driving up prices to astronomical levels. No reason other than children would be strong enough to drive families to bankruptcy in the pursuit of the goal.

With online education, that primary drive would disappear. Families would be free to move closer to their work, reducing congestion and commute times, car expenses, perhaps even to the point where the family wouldn't need a car. Children could be guaranteed good, safe education in their own homes, where they would be free to work at their own pace and perhaps even study the things that most interested them. Instead of becoming medical majors in college, they could pursue a curriculum of study that could help them shorten their stay in college and move them into the workforce sooner and with less debt.

Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi advocate the voucher system in their book "The Two-Income Trap." I have always had a problem with this, because you still have a supply and demand problem - the vouchers would all get spent on those schools that are perceived to be the best, while the failing schools. . . . what? disappear? How would the limited spots in a good school be distributed? By grade? Then you get schools with all A students, and schools with all F students (which is pretty much what you have now, when you look at the average grades of students in suburban versus urban schools). What about by lottery? I can't imagine the high-income parent of all-A student allowing them to go to school in Bronx, or Watts, or Compton, or Boyle Heights, or any other classically urban school. And of course, you have the distance problem again. Shipping a kid from the suburbs to an urban school would do nothing to alleviate congestion.

However, online K-12 addresses all of these concerns, and it's being provided free through the public school system.

There will be serious resistance to this at first. Two-income households will struggle to provide their children good online education because there will not be a parent there to supervise the child. But ultimately, this will be a good thing, because the parents will not have to struggle so much to buy education through massive debt loads, and instead can focus on purchasing housing, and the lifestyle, that they can afford. I suspect that as families recognize that being in the best school district is no longer necessary, housing will become less and less of an issue.


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