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Monday, February 07, 2011

Virtual Education

A number of my readers have pointed out a Guest Post from a member of the OU's Department of Day School and Educational Services division on the possibility of conversion of the limudei chol department with teachers and specialists from a "bricks and mortar" school to an online virtual charter school, particularly K12, staffed by learning coaches.

In 2007 I hosted a Guest Post from a reader on the idea of virtual education for Yeshiva Students. Between then and now, I am only aware of one small (and new) Yeshiva that is using the model of Yeshiva + a Virtual Academy. That school is Yeshivas Ohev Shalom of Los Angeles. As per the Rosh Yeshivas' article on Outsourcing General Studies, when it comes to outsourcing in their yeshiva, there have been some worthwhile gains. They write of time gained when classroom time isn't wasted on discipline and the advantages of tailored curriculum the ability to offer more advanced courses despite a small population. It seems that in the Yeshiva environment, there is much to be gained outsourcing general studies. The authors mention that the online public school model is more demanding [compared to the Yeshiva model].

It is a shame that that we have few examples of outsourcing general education, both in Yeshiva school and Day Schools. Is the education a marked improvement, and in which environment? What are the actual cost savings? Is this model successful for younger children, particularly younger elementary child (who, in my experience, require a good deal of monitoring)?

As a tuition paying parent, I'm intrigued by the idea of a virtual online academy and I'd love to see if tested, but I don't think that I'd be willing to put my child in this environment just yet. At this point I simply don't know enough people who have worked with such a model and given our own experiences with our children, I have a number of concerns. But, if the OU is serious about convincing the public that this is something viable, it would be great to see the program piloted, especially in the younger grades.

24 comments:

Abba's Rantings said...

1) if online schooling is cheaper and/or superior as its advocates argue, then why not use it for limude kodesh also?

2) "Is this model successful for younger children, particularly younger elementary child"

i think a lot depends on the child's personality, whether older or younger. i don't think it would work for my own son right now.

3) if i understand correctly, the only reason this is making news now is because of the possibility i NJ that if set up properly then the state will pay for the secular education (as opposed to the situation in california?)

Akiva said...

Chabad runs an online shaliach's children's school, that's virtualized not due to money but due to the distance between the children.

I've heard it's going very well.

Akiva said...

Also, Florida has created a full online virtual school...which they're even using in real schools where classes are too big (just put in a bunch of screens and call it virtual).

Anonymous said...

I'm a Chabad parent who uses the online school, it's indeed a great school however, sitting in front of a pc for most of the day is not easy and not something every child can do, even with frequent breaks.

Pre scholarship tuition is not significantly cheaper then brick and mortar, plus there are computer, webcam and headphone expenses and someone needs to supervise the children most of the time.

JS said...

"1) if online schooling is cheaper and/or superior as its advocates argue, then why not use it for limude kodesh also?"

The cynical side of me says because then all the rabbis would be out of jobs plus this is a ploy to get state money. The state won't pay for religious study. So, apparently quality isn't as important as free, if we're to believe this is a better model of learning. I'm sure the response is something like a rebbe offers counseling and chizuk and by his very example inspires our children - certainly all true, but don't secular subject teachers do the same in their fields? I was very inspired by certain English, math, science, and history teachers I had throughout my education and they certainly helped shape who I am today just as much as any rabbi.

After all, why not push it to its logical limit and ask why we need brick and mortar schools altogether? Why not do all of schooling online. You could satisfy the socialization aspect in a myriad of ways.

The proposal raises more questions than it answers in my mind.

Avi said...

Abba,

Three reasons:
1. Doing virtual education right requires enormous up-front curriculum development. K12 made that investment knowing it will have economies of scale on the deployment side. It probably isn't economically viable to do the same thing on the limudei kodesh side, especially with all the microscopic differences in hashkafa.
2. Torah is not strictly about learning information, it is also the transmission of values. Some will argue that virtual or computer-based instruction by definition cannot transmit the mesorah or form a proper rebbe-student bond needed to instill the love of Torah.
3. In theory, it would put a lot of Rebbeim out of work.

Anonymous said...

I assume that the on-line chabad program for children of schluchim works so well because the family is central in the transmission of values and supplements the on-line learning. Also, these children probably spend a lot more time with their parents than do children of those parents who have to be away from home for 10-12 hours or more hours a day commuting and working outside of the home. The schluchim work hard too, but generally they are not commuting and work at home or the chabad house next door, don't have 9-5 hours and involve their kids in many of their kiruv activities. Many of them also send their kids away for live school starting at age 13 or 14 (particularly the boys) if there is no local yeshiva, and they are generally not trying to prepare their kids for college. So, while a lot can be learned from the chabad on-line school, it is used in a very different environment than exists for many families.

Abba's Rantings said...

AVI:

1) This is a legitimate reason, although how does Chabad do it? And while day schools could never approach the economy of scale of the potential that K12 has, there are still a lot of day schools out there that could collaborate. And you mention microscopic differences in hashkafah? Please tell me what these differences have to do with how chumash is taught in YNJ, Noam and Moriah? Or Haftr and Halb? Etc.

2)"Torah is not strictly about learning information, it is also the transmission of values."

I would hope that for 10-20k a year you don't let the secular studies of the hook for teaching kids values.

"Some will argue that virtual or computer-based instruction by definition cannot transmit the mesorah or form a proper rebbe-student bond needed to instill the love of Torah."

I have no idea what this means in general. And I also object to the notion that because a rebbe is endowed with male genitalia and devotes a few years in kollel to studying shas and poskim, this makes him more qualified to instill the love of Torah than a morah or unrebbied man.

3) Day schools are not employment agencies. This is part of the reason we got into this tuition crisis mess to begin with. (And it's the hight of hypocrisy that people are so worried so much about the rebbeim losing their jobs but not the secular studies teachers in schools that could potentially go virtual.)

Abba's Rantings said...

ANON:

"assume that the on-line chabad program for children of schluchim works so well because the family is central in the transmission of values and supplements the on-line learning."

so by implication the MO (or rather non-chabad) family is not central in transmitting values and other essentials of yiddishkeit. if true, this is very sad.

"these children probably spend a lot more time with their parents than do children of those parents who have to be away from home for 10-12 hours or more hours a day commuting and working outside of the home."

the chumps' argument is that the only reason they work such long days is because tuition is so high. (not that i personally believe most of them would actually quit their jobs even if tuition were to be reduced in a real way)

JS said...

Abba's,

It's my understanding that currently the high income "chump" families have a guy working long days in NYC and a wife working at least part-time. So I'd say you have a husband coming home around 7-8PM at the earliest and maybe working 1-2 Sundays a month, and a wife on the "mommy track" working till maybe 4-5 with maybe a day off every week.

I think if tuition were far lower or public school/charter school plus talmud torah became acceptable, you'd see a lot of women becoming stay at home or working more part-time hours and a much smaller percentage of men taking jobs in smaller companies where the lifestyle is better (the percentage might be higher once the family realizes what their true income needs are and/or catch up on bills, savings, retirement, etc.).

Abba's Rantings said...

JS:

i don't think that most chumps are really as upset about the long/hard days (more upset than than their non-frum/non-Jewish coworkers with the same schedules who vastly outnumber them?), as they are of the need to part with so much of their hard-earned earnings to pay for tuition.

Miami Al said...

Abba's Rantings:

"3) Day schools are not employment agencies. This is part of the reason we got into this tuition crisis mess to begin with. (And it's the hight of hypocrisy that people are so worried so much about the rebbeim losing their jobs but not the secular studies teachers in schools that could potentially go virtual.)"

It's not hypocrisy.

The Rabbinical organizations are highly concerned with Rabbi employment rates, they also place a high value on what they do. That's NOT hypocrisy, it's self interest and selection bias. If you ask a Rabbi, what's the best way a Jew can serve Hashem, if he doesn't say "be a Rabbi," he's in the wrong field. Likewise, I expect successful business owners that support Tzeddakah organizations will tell you how everyone should be like them, and the "communal workers" that the Rabbis would laud are shnorrers living off the community.

"so by implication the MO (or rather non-chabad) family is not central in transmitting values and other essentials of yiddishkeit. if true, this is very sad."

Correct, that is the implication held by those involved in communal decision making and education. They do NOT respect MO families, their values, or their Yiddishkeit.

Anonymous said...

The comment about Chabad parents transmitting values was not meant to suggest that other parents don't or to disparage MO parents. My apologies. It was in response to the suggestion that lemudi kodesh can't be on-line because of the importance of a live person to transmit values and serve as role models and the observation that Chabad has a full on-line curriculum. It's just a fact of life that most of us can't spend as much time with their children as a Chabad Schliach can. That's not just due to tuition costs. There are plenty of other real life costs that require working outside the home, and sometimes for very long hours. Even without tuition, unless one parent is a high wage earner, most American families require two working parents, even if its only 9-5 and one parent is part time.

Anonymous said...

M. Al said "If you ask a Rabbi, what's the best way a Jew can serve Hashem, if he doesn't say "be a Rabbi," he's in the wrong field."

I disagree. A wise Rabbi would answer the question based upon the individual's talents and personality and the community's needs, and knows that a community of only Rabbis would not be serving Hashem in the best way possible. Hashem made individuals, not mass-produced cookie cutter clones.

Anonymous said...

SL states that she would have concerns about putting her children in a virtual school given the lack of experience and data. I agree, but no one wants to go first and have their children be guinea pigs. Maybe the answer is not to start with an all or nothing approach, but for the day schools/yeshivas to incorporate the program for one or two classes, such as math and history. There would be some expense for the IT set up, DSL lines, etc. but probably not more than the teachers cost, or pre-existing computer labs can be used. Many families probably already have laptops that they can send to school with their kids. There may be some parents who have the expertise to provide some of the IT support and help set up the system. Parents could also serve as the monitors/coaches, particularly in the younger grades. Its a perfect way for those on scholarship where both parents aren't working to pay some of the tuition by "in kind" services. I hate to see a math and history teacher laid off, but given all the layoffs in public school, it won't be hard to rehire teachers if the experiment doesn't work. Alternatively, those teachers could serve as the coaches/monitors during the test period.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if vitual classes might be appropriate for a second or third grader with reading problems and ADHD and if they have online Judaic studies classes for children that young? My son will be leaving his current school at the end of the year, and my wife and I are trying to make plans for next year. Thanks for any advice offered.

Chaim B. said...

If you are interested in virtual education you may want to read "Saving Schools - From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning" by Paul Peterson. (http://content.hks.harvard.edu/savingschools/) He discusses at length and applauds the Florida model someone referred to earlier. Public schools are also facing a budget crunch and at least some parents and educators are looking for answers.

Shoshana Z. said...

Anonymous 5:59-

If you are looking for online Judaics please contact Rabbi Yosef Resnick. His website is http://www.room613.net.

rosie said...

One Lubavitch yeshiva ketana in Queens (the Ohel Cheder) is a co-op school that is parent run and parents are involved in all aspects of the school's operation.
Today's Fox news website has a clip about how Catholic schools do more with less money. They pay teachers less but can impart more because parents expect the kids whom they pay tuition for to achieve and the parents work to make sure that the kids are studying. Apparently, online school also operates on parental involvement but as one poster says, does not really cost less. I would think that in states that have online charter schools such as Pennsylvania, that all secular education could be accomplished online. The hitch would be the time involved since online education probably follows a regular 6 or 7 hour school day and would not leave time for Jewish studies. I am not sure why anyone would prefer letting their child sit home and learn online unless the child had health problems, that caused them to miss a lot of school, or were planning to spend much of the school year traveling.

YaelAldrich said...

Dear Anonymous 5:59,

As a homeschooling parent, you do have the options of online schooling, both Judaics and secular, for your child, but for a child with documented reading issues and ADD, I would really suggest you work on those issues before trying to use a medium like online learning. There are many resources for working with your child so they can be the best student overall before engaging in a form of school that might not work and frustrate all involved. But room613.org is the best known online purveyor of Judaic schooling...

aaron from L.A. said...

Gee,how about virtual parents,too? Just imagine all the new Piske Halacha on Kibud Av Va'em!

K12 Fan said...

Virtual learning is not untested - in fact, studies have shown that it is superior to a classroom environemnt where a teacher is forced to teach to the average student, boring more advanced ones, nad leaving less advanced students behind.

See: http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf

Shoshana Z. said...

@Yael,

Thanks for bringing up room613. I had written a comment about it, but it didn't post.

louise said...

With all due respect to progress and science I am a believer of human interaction. How can a child develop, learn to defend his thoughts, talk and debate with human beings, connect and make friends when we educate him to hide behind a computer?
I suggest to keep the good things of the conventional education and to combine it with computerized one.
The young children can dress nicely and put their kippot
and enjoy the togetherness with their friends.