Lefty Parent

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Circle of equals

21st Century “Hybrid” Education

August 25th, 2012 at 15:59

Saw this recent piece in Ed Week, “Hybrid Home Schools Gaining Traction”, highlighting a trend which may turn out to be the new emerging norm for education as we get deeper into this new century. Stated simply using an environmental metaphor, the current “monoculture” of full-time year-round instructional school attendance may be gradually supplanted by perhaps a richer “polyculture” including an array of learning experiences – some classes, some self-study, some collaborative work, and more real-life experience.

The article cites an example of two sisters…

Emmy Elkin’s school day starts with a cooking show. The 10-year-old and her mom, Jill Elkin of Peachtree City, Ga., are up at 8 a.m., making breakfast along with “Iron Chef America” and chatting about algebra. Last week, Emmy left home after breakfast to meet a new Japanese tutor, around the time her sister Kayla, 14, dragged herself awake to get her independent mathematics study done before a friend came over for a joint British literature course. The sisters spent the afternoon working through a chemistry course online, with Jill Elkin giving more individual coaching to her younger daughter… Kayla and Emmy are part of the modern generation of home-schooled students, piecing together their education from their mother, a former Fayette County math teacher, other district and university teachers, parent co-ops, and online providers.

You might initially think that such an approach is only available to kids from economically privileged families with money for all sorts of tutors and private classes, or maybe with parents trained as professional educators. But I read about more and more public schools being set up that offer online programs or even individual online classes. I’m even hearing about a few public schools letting kids come on campus for individual classes or after-school programs, without having to commit to go to that school all day. If this is a trend, I certainly see it strengthening rather than subsiding in the decades ahead. From the piece…

Education policymakers and researchers have largely ignored the tremendous growth in home schooling, particularly among these sorts of “hybrid” home-schoolers willing to blur the pedagogical and legal lines of public and private education, said Joseph Murphy, an associate dean at Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University and the author of Home Schooling in America: Capturing and Assessing the Movement. The book, an analysis of research on the topic, is being published this month by Corwin of Thousand Oaks, Calif… “Historically home school was home school, and school was school,” Mr. Murphy said. “Now … it’s this rich portfolio of options for kids.”

A rich portfolio of options akin to that ecological “polyculture” I referred to earlier. In my thinking its got to (or at least very likely to) offer a more robust ground for a kid to grow. The catch is… can a kid from a less economically privileged family operate in this sort of richer learning environment without the money for private classes or parents (or other adults) available during the day to take them to classes, study dates, real-life experiences or simply keep an eye on them while they study solo.

Again, for the more economically privileged families there are innovative private schools like the Baywood Learning Center in Oakland CA referred to in the article…

A private school for gifted students, has offered hybrid home-schooling programs for the past three years. The school has a la carte classes on individual subjects once a week, as well as a multiage class that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays to cover core academics. Director Grace Neufeld said demand for the latter has grown 50 percent in the last year, to about 40 students ages 4 to 17.

Well why can’t a bunch of public schools try to keep pace with this trend and offer less economically advantaged families a similar school offering, more like a community college or a YMCA than a conventional school? Would it cost more than a conventional school that tries to have teachers in front of every student six hours a day, five days a week? Maybe not!

Ah but public schools have to teach to the test, not to the student’s interests, which really hampers their ability to adapt and evolve with the rest of us. If we really care about our kids, that is all our kids in all economic circumstances, we need to get rid of this whole high-stakes testing thing. Its keeping our economically disadvantaged kids locked in increasingly outmoded educational “monocultures” in a world of emerging “polycultures”.

I read in the article that this “hybrid” approach is becoming more the norm for homeschooled kids, particularly during their teen years. It was certainly the approach our daughter Emma adopted (at her own direction not her parents’). She chose to…

* Learn French through a variety of methods including community college classes, with a shared tutor, later helping on a farm and at a language school in French Canada

* Take art, piano, guitar, gymnastics and dance lessons (again not stuff her parents suggested/pushed her to do, but by her own choice)

* Take formal and informal training for youth leadership roles in a Unitarian-Universalist youth community

Having become comfortable with this “hybrid” process during her teen years, she has continued to hybridize her learning into young adulthood…

* Take online novel-writing classes from a university (UCLA) extension program

* Going to bartending school

It’s good to read in the piece that the conventional education world is beginning to try to address this need for more diversified learning…

The hybrid approach has become “very, very typical, particularly at the middle and high school level,” said Yvonne Bunn, the director of home-school support for the Richmond-based Home Educators Association of Virginia. “It used to be it was very difficult to get materials; now we have people all over the place who want to sell to home-schoolers because they are such a good market.” About half of state legislatures now require school districts to allow home-schooled students to enroll part time if they want to, and both Mr. Ray and Mr. Murphy noted that the current budget crunch may have given districts more reason to offer programs to home-schooling parents, which can generate additional revenue.

Seems like one of the big thrusts in our society and its institutions is to encourage what’s often called “lifelong learning”, rather than shutting down that inquisitive mind once you get done with your formal education. But is twelve (or often even sixteen) straight years of a “monoculture” education mostly sitting in a classroom with a teacher in front of you really the best way to encourage one to be a lifelong learner? Or is it more likely when you are done with that twelve to sixteen year ordeal that any formal or informal learning will be something you will be happy to be done with and avoid? Wouldn’t spending your youth years, particularly your teen years with a hybrid “polyculture” of educational experiences better prepare you to continue learning all your life (certainly so useful and even required in a dynamic high-tech society like our own).

Again, lack of economic privilege seems to be preventing a lot of families from giving their kids the advantage (that they can leverage all their lives) of a hybrid education…

The number of home-schoolers has more than doubled since 1999, to more than 2 million as of 2010, representing nearly 4 percent of all K-12 students, according to Mr. Murphy’s book. More than 90 percent of the families are two-parent, one-salary homes, and the mother continues to be the most likely parent to stay home.

What about those families where both parents work outside the home to make those financial ends meet? And if the neighborhood is not so kid friendly, requiring the young person to be constantly chaperoned by a teacher or other responsible adult? Should they be doomed to a diet of endless instruction in a seat rather than a diversified life experience as a youth? Isn’t that saddling that kid with a huge impediment?

Again, we can put people on the moon, decrypt the human genome, but we can’t invent a public education system that offers our young people an array of diversified learning experiences, rather than just “old school” instructional seat time…

Time-on-task studies in traditional schools have found students engaged with their studies only about a third of each day, he noted. “If you’ve really got engaged time for 130 minutes, you’ve probably added 30 minutes to what kids get in school.”

When my daughter stopped going to school and no longer had to abide by that schedule, she would often be at the keyboard all night writing. In her case the writing was extensive posts inventing the back story and continuing narrative for her characters in an online role-playing game, but it was definitely maybe ten hours a day of “time-on-task” honing her writing and overall communication skills. A conventionally “schooled” kid, constrained by society’s formal education timetable for when you must be in that classroom seat, just can’t take that sort of a deep dive if they have the notion to do so.

As to the two sisters highlighted at the top of the piece…

Ms. Elkin said she uses the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for her daughters, mainly to guide her own instruction, but she sees more academic development in the way they put together their own learning; Emmy decided to learn Japanese, following her interests in origami and sushi, while Kayla is working on her third novel… “The kids learn to work on their own and figure things out for themselves,” Jill Elkin said.

So Kayla is working on her third novel? She’s fourteen years old right?

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3 Responses to “21st Century “Hybrid” Education”

  1. Rose Says:

    With 15-25% of the male population being labelled or drugged…I look for even more of this for young men.

    Not that I’m bitter or anything…

    I find myself looking back to the good old days when male minds were encouraged to think spatially as was their gift. My son got his GED without any study, and yet scored in the top 10% overall of all graduating students. Had he stayed in school, he would have flunked out of 9th grade because of Algebra. The good thing about homeschooling, especially unschooling, as we eventually did…is that there ARE NO BOXES. Taught himself Algebra online, and went from 12% to 29%(compass for tech school) to 66% in Math on GED. School isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, and those who fail to fit into it well, are beginning to figure it out. They are not stupid because they don’t learn the way they are taught. Among IT peoples there has always been an egalitarianism, and it permeates the web. Schools no longer hold the singular key to knowledge.

  2. Cooper Zale Says:

    Rose… thanks for you comment and sharing your son’s experience. I like your framing of unschooling as learning with “no boxes”.

  3. Sharyl Gascot Says:

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