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Monday, April 25, 2011

The next job outsourced to China? Teaching

From the Miami Herald

By Jennifer I. Smith

The bill’s sponsor, state senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami), calls it “broadening the choices available to school children and their parents.”

Teachers call it “outsourcing.”

The bill, SB 1620, passed unanimously through a Senate committee April 5, would create virtual charter schools, allowing students to sign up for them with or without school districts’ permission. Companies worldwide would be able to provide online courses. They would be available to children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Senator Flores said of her bill that it “can take our education system out of the farms and factories of the 20th century and into the technology-based world in which students now live.”

However, teachers, parents and students themselves know that a passion for video games or Facebook does not translate into a passion for sitting down in front of a computer screen and learning subjects like history, English language arts, Spanish or calculus, mainly through lengthy readings and answering questions in writing or multiple-choice formats.

The Florida Virtual School, which has become widely used in the past year by school districts as a way to get around the class-size amendment, has not enjoyed resounding success so far, at least in popular opinion.

Only 1 percent of the state’s 2.6 million public school students were enrolled in it last year, many of these were enrolled against their wishes and without parental permission, as districts scrambled to meet the hard caps of the 2002 Class Size Amendment without the necessary funding.

In Miami-Dade County, there is a high rate ???? of failure among students enrolled in virtual schools, particularly among lower-level readers.

Online courses require good reading skills, as well as a high level of motivation and discipline. As any parent or teacher can attest to, even when students are good readers, they are more often than not sorely lacking in the motivation and discipline departments.

Then, for classes such as science, one wonders how effective the course could possibly be on a computer. Where are the hands-on experiments that make scientific theories come alive and fascinate children? Reading about chemical reactions is one thing; creating them with one’s own hands and watching them with one’s own eyes is quite another.

Or what about music? Will students learn to sing or play the tuba through a computer? Art? Drama?

And foreign languages? Will students acquire a passion for other languages and broaden their cultural horizons by sitting in front of a computer? Will they become fluent by speaking into a microphone?

As a “choice” only, little to fear…very few parents will choose for their children to sit in front of a computer all day.

The fear is that, while it is being introduced in legislation as providing a “choice,” it will be increasingly imposed upon unwilling students and parents, as it already has been in many instances this year.

Technology as a supplement or a tool in education is fine. A SmartBoard in the classroom can make lessons more visually appealing and interactive. Using computers for research or to complete projects can be very practical and a necessary skill for college and beyond.

However, replacing live teachers with a computer screen? Most people I know would agree that this is not sound educational policy.

What it is, however, is cost savings for the state, as they prepare to slash as much as 7 percent from the education budget.

There is no class-size requirement to meet.

There is no building to maintain. No custodians, cafeteria workers, security guards or clerical to pay. No equipment to buy.

Depending on where the company is based, maybe you don’t even have to pay the teachers minimum wage.

Outsourcing became a trend among corporations not because they could not make a profit manufacturing in the United States and paying their workers decent wages and benefits, but because they could make a bigger profit by paying workers elsewhere substandard wages. As they moved their operations overseas, they blamed the move on the unions. After all, if only they could pay American workers 10 cents a day and no health or pension, if only they could force American workers to toil sixteen hours a day in firetraps with no ventilation with only a ten-minute break for lunch, then they would have no problem keeping their factories right here in the good old U.S. of A. But since those darned unions were so unreasonable...

Outsourcing teachers is now the up-and-coming trend among politicians on the right, not because they cannot afford to fund education adequately, but because they can give more tax breaks to their friends and provide more profits to their friends in the private education and testing industries by paying teachers less.

Until they have their way with that legislation too, there is still a minimum wage in the United States.

But if you can hire teachers in China or India...?

And if you can have U.S.-based corporations running those companies, soaking up state contracts and paying teachers in China and India the “going rate” there...?

Imagine the possibilities!

Imagine the campaign donations!

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