Monday, August 8, 2011

Common Ground In A Most Uncommon Pair of Sources

A leader of a very prominent education organization was recently quoted in a widely-read newspaper in one of America's most well-known cities about alternative learning styles. A former teacher himself, he made a claim with which we couldn't agree more:
"Everybody doesn't learn at the same pace."
And then there's this:
 To suggest that all kids are able to learn using only one medium wasn't realistic years ago, and we don't function that way today.
Can you guess who made those statements? The former comes from National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, and the latter from Heidi Glidden, the assistant director in the education issues department for the American Federation of Teachers. We rarely see eye-to-eye with the nation's two biggest teachers unions on education reform issues (in large part because we're proposing reforms and the NEA is just now coming around to including student performance in teacher evaluations), but on this point, both spokespeople are right on the money.

The comments came in a story about Khan Academy in The Washington Post. Khan isn't exactly a school, but instead it's an expansive, nonprofit online resource that serves as a supplement to education in the traditional classroom setting. Using the web site, kids can get basic tutorials in a host of subjects at their own pace, whenever they need them, and in a way that can be catered to their specific needs.

The site has also received an endorsement from an official at the U.S. Department of Education, and estimates peg Khan's reach at more than 1,000 classrooms around the country. A handful of lessons have even been specifically integrated into an entire school district in California, where the organization is based.

Here's what Karen Cator, the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, had to say:
“Technology...empowers [teachers] to be much more effective with students. There is an unbelievable opportunity that we have to leverage how people learn through technology.”
This is, in effect, the same argument we make for school choice: exposure to alternative teaching methods, environments, and learning styles helps kids who would otherwise struggle. Virtual and online learning options obviously come to mind as examples of these ideas in action, but the same goes for charter schools and access to high-quality private schools via vouchers and scholarship tax credits.

And, Khan isn't a tool that's useful only to teachers: parents themselves can take a more active role in their child's educational future thanks to this and similar initiatives. And that's what choice is aimed at giving them at the end of the day.

Among the site's biggest fans is Bill Gates. His Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $1.5 million to Khan Academy last year. We'll let him and founder Salman Khan explain why they're so excited about it:

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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