Politicians love to talk about the "Achievement Gap" in the public school system. What's apparent is that poor students are testing worse than wealthier students, and black kids are scraping the bottom in math and reading while white kids score in the middle of the pack.
Are these poor and minority students incapable of understanding the same material their wealthier, whiter friends study? Pixels and Policy analyzes the problem of environment, and how virtual schooling could put an end to the "Achievement Gap."
A Problem of Environment
What's clear from decades of research into public schools is the fact that students in inner-city public schools fare, on average, much worse than students attending public schools in the suburbs. The fact that the vast bulk of inner city students are also minority helps explain why black students traditionally fare worse on standardized tests.
Certainly there are no biological differences between a middle-class white student in upscale Fairfax, Virginia and a low-income black student across the river in Washington, D.C. The achievement gap persists because the inner-city educational environment is fundamentally different than the suburbs, and it's not conducive to any kind of learning.
Inner-city schools like those in Chicago and D.C. suffer from all the symptoms of long-term neglect: Broken chalkboards, out-of-date textbooks, overcrowded hallways, apathetic teachers, and an administration crippled by politics and headline hunting. Student-on-student fights are common, creating distractions from which impressionable kids never recover.
So how do administrators improve the environment under tight budget restraints?
Sitting in the Virtual Classroom
Environmental problems plagued inner city schools for so long because they lacked the funding to meaningfully alter the environment. With virtual technology, this is no longer true – technology exists today capable of supporting a classroom environment, and innovation into the utility of virtual classrooms is ongoing.
Funding shouldn't be used as a crutch for stalling the implementation of virtual worlds. As a nation, we spend nearly $10,000 per student per school year for ineffective teaching methods when large-scale studies of virtual education's feasibility could be carried out on an entire school for a fraction of the cost.
Virtual schooling also allows for closer tracking of performance. As the forward-minded education firm Synaptic Mash is proving, assignments given through computers can be tracked more effectively than paper assignments.
A virtual exam can adjust its questions to focus on problem areas for individual students instead of tired one-size-fits-all standardized examination. Virtual classrooms allow an individual instructor to adapt a lesson to every student's learning curve.
There is no certainty that sending inner-city students to virtual classrooms instead of the distraction-laden cells of dilapidated brick-and-mortar schools will make a difference. But it's inexcusable that major pilot studies haven't been carried out given the cost-effectiveness of virtual education and the unmitigated failure of previous progressive education techniques.
These students already understand the technology. They play with it every day after school. If ever there was a time to pilot virtual learning programs, it is now.