State Officials Ignore Ed Alternatives

JAN. 24, 2011

The news is not good for college students in California, or at least that’s what lawmakers want everyone to believe.

Earlier this week a legislative committee held a formal hearing at the Capitol to discuss the governor’s proposed budget cuts to the colleges and universities in the state. And as expected, the chancellors from California’s Community College system, the California State University and University of California systems showed up at the hearing to offer dire reasons why budget cuts should not be made.

Students attempting to transfer from community college to CSU or UC campuses are already being turned away with budget cuts cited as the reason, and more fee hikes are imminent, numerous news reports around the state claim. “‘This is a sad day for California,’ UC President Mark Yudof said, summing up the reaction to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal Monday to cut $500 million each from the budgets of UC and CSU, and an additional $400 million from the state’s community college system,” the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported.

But missing from the education hearing was any talk of education reform, or any sincere, creative ideas for how to more effectively educate California’s college students. And, noticeably absent from the hearing were any educational reform groups. The Assembly Higher Education Committee only heard from those who fit the agenda of the state.

Online education was only mentioned briefly during the hearing, but never fully discussed. Yet many states are embracing the benefits of online education in undergraduate and lower division college coursework.

California surprisingly is not one of the states leading online education, and in fact, many experts say California lags behind in the availability of online college studies.

California education leaders have been focused for decades on providing educational access to all students.  So, it would seem that one of the most efficient ways to make education more accessible today would be through the Internet.

The California Federation of Teachers has been a vocal opponent of online education in spite of the research proving its success. The federation has even published a framework for community college contract negotiations. “Rationale for policy statements” in the framework document states, “As a general rule, distance education should be undertaken when a campus-based alternative is impractical. Where possible, these courses should also be offered in the traditional classroom manner.”

It appears that the CFT does not want to lose any classroom teachers.

The CFT makes its position abundantly clear further into the same paragraph. “Quality of instruction should be the major factor in deciding to offer distance learning courses, and the quality of education must be maintained regardless of the method of delivery. The institution may decide to offer distance education courses when a particular group of students is unable to reach the campus, because the college cannot offer an equivalent course, or because the distance-based instruction is recognized by the faculty as being equal or superior to what the institution can provide on campus.”

Instead of providing online education to anyone in the state, the CFT appears to be attempting to run interference on behalf of teachers, should any find themselves no longer needed. The CFT wants teachers kept in classroom instruction, and only to offer limited coursework online.

In the new book “Short Circuited: The Challenges Facing the Online Learning Revolution in California,” published by the Pacific Research Institute (CalWatchdog’s parent organization), the authors explain that California has imposed so much red tape and regulations that the expansion of online education has become ridiculously difficult. “Virtual charters are governed by obsolete independent-study rules that fail to recognize the potential of online learning options,” the introduction explains.

And, California’s online students are only allowed to partake in online education in the counties in which they reside, instead of accessing any community college in the state, which is completely illogical given the expanse and purpose for online education.

Charter schools were created to operate outside the regular school district structure in order to be free from most regulations that apply to other public schools. In return, these schools were supposed to be more accountable for student achievement than traditional public schools. This combination of freedom and accountability was meant to spur innovation and instill choice and competition in the public school system. And it has.

But, the state has continued to make significant amendments to the charter plan, and has expanded state policies tying the hands of charter schools, making them adhere to more and more public school guidelines. In spite of the restrictions and regulations, it is undeniable how successful the academic performance of charter schools compares with that of most traditional public schools.

Despite the Legislature’s disregard of educational reforms, evidenced at the hearing this week, online charter schools are in demand. Traditional education and teaching methods are being modified to make education more accessible. The state should cheer.

What is missing is any acknowledgment of the need for cuts to teaching and administrative staff. The state could make meaningful budget cuts to the higher education budget by reducing the number of paid staff, require tenured professors to teach lower division and undergraduate classes, and use teaching resources more creatively and wisely.

And the public should demand to know why the state’s cost per pupil at UC campuses is so much higher than at community colleges, which have to accept every student that applies.

Given that student preparedness has dropped so significantly, online education as an alternative or even supplement to traditional education should be a viable choice, and could increase accessibility to many more students in the state, while providing parents and students more educational alternatives.

But the Legislature would have to invite all of the education interests to the table for the discussion, and not just the usual suspects.

–Katy Grimes

2 comments

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  1. ExPFC Wintergreen
    ExPFC Wintergreen 24 January, 2011, 21:56

    The teaching establishment doesn’t even publicize the availability of the Hish School Proficiency Examination as an alternative way for students to graduate from high school after sophomore year and move on and out of the horrible high school public education system. I say “even” because the Education Code requires that the availability of this examination be widely publicized at schools, but doing so would eliminate ADA money.

    Reply this comment
  2. judyrodriguez43
    judyrodriguez43 19 July, 2018, 00:47

    Traditional education and teaching methods are being modified to make education more accessible. The state should cheer.

    Reply this comment

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