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Monday, August 26, 2013

School bankruptcy?

      With this week's start of another school year it seems like a good time to think about how school districts are building for future capacity.  This morning's Baltimore Sun had an article about a $1 billion dollar Baltimore City plan for school renovation to upgrade their system's buildings. Is this a smart investment for a cash strapped city?  I was reminded of a recent conversation with a relative in Pennsylvania who told me that their local school district was facing the possibility of bankruptcy.  I had never heard of something like this and inquired why this was necessary.  It seems that their school district had lost many students and the teacher contracts couldn't be changed to reflect the loss of revenue from the State of Pennsylvania.  The only way to undo the contracts was to declare bankruptcy.  Knowing that this area had seen a boom of jobs related to the gas fracking in their area I asked why the number of students was dropping.  It seems that more students were being homeschooled on the computer.  Once this was something that was centered on religiously minded families but now it was becoming more common in other families.  Pennsylvania has been on the cutting edge in being willing to pay for the cost of having students learn at home.  One educational vendor, Connection Academy, has been certified in Pennsylvania to provide learning from kindergarten to high school.  They buy the computer and pay for the internet connection.  Their tuition is paid by the State.
     This made me start thinking what if this were to become more common in our area?  Will the new schools  in Howard County being planned or built now become obsolete in a short time? Will these school buildings go the way of the retail bookstore closings of the recent past? Will Howard County be looking at underutilized school buildings in 5 or 10 years? Will our school buildings be dinosaurs in the future? If you think this wouldn't seem possible just think what you would have thought 10 years ago when someone said that the Post Office, bookstores and newspapers would be at risk of extinction in 2013.  Why wouldn't this be the method you would choose when you could have your child educated no matter where you lived?  I know there are socialization and other reasons why children benefit from our present school model but groups of home internet based families could provide this socialization without the school buildings.  Just as the overhead of operating a bookstore has been threatened by Amazon, the overhead of building and maintaining school buildings maybe in danger as the internet based teaching model matures.

    This week President Obama gave a couple of speeches on college education reform. Unfortunately his reform ideas were related to making the existing college model more affordable and accountable in the results they achieve.  This is short term thinking.  The reality of how the internet is changing K-12 education is also happening at the college level today.  Reforms of our outmoded college model is not the answer to making higher education more accessible and affordable. The internet model for higher education has many accessibility and affordability advantages   Just think what it may mean to have a Nobel Prize scientist teaching your college course instead of professor who has never done scientific research in the real world.  I know that not all scientists can be good teachers but just think what it would be like to have one that was good at teaching.  Why pay for expensive buildings when courses can be taught worldwide over the internet? Want to hear where education maybe going in the future?  Check out DYI U

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