Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The candidates and online education. I'm all in!

You already have my opinion on the candidate's general positions on education in my previous post. But what about online education? Where do the candidates stand?

This one caught me by surprise.

From McCain's website:

John McCain Supports Expanding Virtual Learning By Reforming The "Enhancing Education Through Technology Program." John McCain will target $500 million in current federal funds to build new virtual schools and support the development of online course offerings for students. These courses may be for regular coursework, for enhancement, or for dual enrollment into college.

John McCain Will Allocate $250 Million Through A Competitive Grant Program To Support States That Commit To Expanding Online Education Opportunities. States can use these funds to build virtual math and science academies to help expand the availability of AP Math, Science, and Computer Sciences courses, online tutoring support for students in traditional schools, and foreign language courses.

John McCain Will Offer $250 Million For Digital Passport Scholarships To Help Students Pay For Online Tutors Or Enroll In Virtual Schools. Low-income students will be eligible to receive up to $4,000 to enroll in an online course, SAT/ACT prep course, credit recovery or tutoring services offered by a virtual provider. Providers could range from other public schools, virtual charter schools, home school parents utilizing virtual schooling resources or district or state sponsored virtual schools. The Department of Education would competitively award the funds to a national scholarship administrator who would manage the student applications, monitoring, and evaluation of providers.

For some reason, I have this image of McCain and Obama playing no-limit Texas Hold'em. McCain is getting whipped all tournament long on Education, but apparently finds he has a hand to play in online education. So on the flop, without even a flinch, the wily Senator from Arizona pushes 1 billion George Washingtons to the center of the table.

The audience has to wonder..What will Obama do?
We know Obama has more than enough chips in Education to cover McCain. He doesn't have to win this hand to win the tournament, but if he doesn't.. he may be letting McCain back into the game instead of finishing him off.

Will he call? Will he raise? Will he fold?

According to an Obama campaign internal memo mentioned “Many online schools are for-profit ventures and may siphon money away from public schools,”

Though this memo is still on the rumor looks as though Obama will fold.

Let's consider the real weight of McCain's offer. If you check the Department of Education's website, their overall budget is $68.6 billion and they go to explain "Of an estimated $1 trillion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2007-2008, a substantial majority will come from State, local, and private sources."

So $1 billion while not peanuts, is not exactly "All in" either. So it's a political no-brainer for Obama. If I think about it, I'm a strong supporter of online education and while I'm disappointed by Obama's lack of initiative, I certainly will not vote for McCain because of this one subsection of an issue. I'm guessing most Democrats will feel the same.

Why would Obama not support online education?

First, often times online education is associated with the private sector. Should Obama support online education, it may look like he is ceding a point to McCain: some free market practices in education work. Of course, this is nonsense as the public sector is also involved in online education.

2nd, I mentioned many of the programs Obama does support are research-based. Online education is new and doesn't have as strong a research foundation as say, early childhood education, to back up it's claim of effectiveness. This is especially depressing when there is increasing evidence of the benefits of online education to minorities such as in this eSchool News article.

So Obama has a couple of excuses not to engage McCain on this issue. Which is a shame.

McCain has done well to put this issue on the table. While not the silver bullet to all our education problems, there should be a healthy debate and vision for the role of online education in our nation's educational system. I'd hate the only word on online education to be McCain's.

What do you think Obama's stance on online education should be?

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