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AppRising delivers insight into new broadband applications, exploring their impact on networks and their implications for public policy.

AppRising is written by Geoff Daily, who covers broadband applications and the business of online video. Based in Washington, DC, Geoff regularly advises applications developers, network operators, community leaders, and public officials on how to maximize adoption and use of the Internet.

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December 6, 2007 11:44 AM

A 20th Century Mindset Interferes with 21st Century Education

One of the most frustrating parts of being an advocate for broadband is when I come across stories where the use of broadband is deterred by established interests for whom the new paradigm of the Internet is not welcome.

A prime example of this is the recent court order that the state of Wisconsin must stop funding the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.

The Wisconsin Virtual Academy is the biggest virtual school in the state, but it is far from the only one. In total, Wisconsin has twelve virtual schools that serve about 3000 students.

A virtual school is a program that allows students to learn from home under the guidance of their parents with the curriculum, materials, and teacher support of a traditional school delivered over the Internet.

Anyone in Wisconsin can can enroll in them due to Wisconsin's open enrollment policy. And in the little bit I've read about them, they seem to be generally regarded as successful in accomplishing the goal of educating students, especially those for whom the traditional classroom environment is not ideal.

So what's the problem? A bunch of short-sighted technicalities.

First off, the court ruled that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy was violating state law by letting parents assume the responsibilities of state-licensed teachers. How this is worse than parents trying to educate their children without any help from state-licensed teachers, as is the case in most home schooled situation, is beyond me.

The problem likely has something to do with money, which is the second major finding by the court, that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy is violating another law that requires charter schools to be in the district that operates them. Basically they're saying that a virtual school can only get money from the district it's physically located in, not from all the districts in which their students reside, which had been the practice up until now.

Is it just me, or is this unbelievably short-sighted? I understand that divvying up school budgets will be a contentious issue as long as budgets are constrained, but doesn't tying a virtual school's funding to its physical location negate the whole point of a virtual school?

Virtual schools aren't meant to only provide services to students located in a single district. If that's what they want to see happen, then they need to make sure every district has a virtual school.

Or, they could continue to allow virtual schools to accept students from any district, which takes fuller advantage of the boundary busting capabilities of broadband.

Just because a student doesn't live within a district in which a virtual school is located, does that mean he or she should be disallowed from these educational opportunities, even though from a functional perspective there's little to no benefit of being geographically close to a virtual school?

Stories like this frustrate me to no end. They demonstrate the real-life plight of trying to leverage the possibilities of the 21st century while stuck working in a system still geared towards the rules of the 20th.

We must find a way to recognize and resolve situations where established interests are limiting our ability to more fully realize the potential of broadband, otherwise we're going to continue to spin our wheels as broadband and broadband applications remain underutilized.


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