Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Don't let the cables sleep

The course offerings available to students in rural and inner-city Alabama schools tend to be far less extensive than those offered to their counterparts in better-funded suburban schools. As a result, our public schools effectively have limited many students' academic horizons due to factors entirely out of their control, such as their family's socioeconomic status or hometown. That result is untenable in a country where we preach that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed through hard work.

That's why I'm a big fan of Gov. Bob Riley's new Access program, which seeks to use Web-based classes and videoconferences to alleviate the disparities in course offerings in the state's public schools. The program is in its infancy -- it's only five months old and is offered only in 44 high schools thus far -- but the concept has great potential and could expand to hundreds of schools in a hurry. For sure, Access has its limitations -- chief among them are the lack of face-to-face interaction and the reliance on a handful of instructors to teach students in multiple schools at once -- but if nothing else, it's a good stopgap measure to provide advanced-level coursework to students who otherwise would find such opportunities foreclosed to them.

In an ideal world, all schools could offer a diverse curriculum, and Access would be unnecessary. But in this world, where a Black Belt school just can't match an over-the-mountain school's resources right now, Access is a vital effort to allow determined students to pursue the same high-quality education regardless of where they live. This program deserves our support.

4 Comments:

Blogger alaskaguy said...

This Access sounds pretty good. We have much the same problem, arguably worse but the analogy definitely works. Kids growing up in the villages 500 or 1000 miles away from a city say above 10,000 people. They still have "one-room" schools here with maybe 2 teachers...3 if they are lucky. Anyway, one of the governors here made it a point to bring access to villages in the form of internet access and cable tv access. Because if no cable...no tv at all. Now satellite is coming in...and that helps somewhat. My town just got tv in 1996, I think.

The other thing that is cool is that the state really relaxes teacher qualifications in the Bush. Arguably...the teachers sent there are in no way less qualified...but they are often recruited from prior careers to put some real quality time to the village youngsters. UAF has an excellent second-career teacher program. After you sign up for the program...you're sent right away to a high-needs village...and you take courses...while you teach. It's definitely hands-on...and not for the faint of heart...but it attracts a lot of good people though. The only drawback...turnover is still high in some villages just because life is very difficult. Fortunately for us...in a "really red state" that doesn't necessarily work on the European social welfare models...a lot of the native corperations and school districts have made it a real priority to land as many grants as possible...therefore...we have a big program here to bring in village kids in 3 or 4 week increments to towns for some "life-skills" training. Kids who live in villages who operate in barter economies need skills to take them to the dominate socieities...like cash/credit economies...job interview skills/cooking/budgeting skills. If you live on whale meat, and you get admitted to the U of Washington and you can't find whale meat as much as "written" in Seattle with the exception of anti-whaling banner in some protest parade...then you need to know how to budget other nutrition in your diet without blowing the budget on McDonalds.

Not to mention the U of Alaska here has a great videoconferencing program....and it's available to many of the villages as both enrichment and college credit. Kudos for the Access Program.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I can see how distance learning would be a necessity in most of Alaska, moreso than in pretty much any other state in the union. From what you say, it sounds like the university is on top of it.

No TV until 1996? Unreal.

I really like the idea of recruiting second-career teachers. Several of our universities here have programs that can grant certification in about two years. Alabama also permits provisional certificates for professionals in grades 9-12, and even in K-8 if their field is fine arts or foreign language. It's a great way to try to plug holes (especially in math and science) with people who really know the material and want to pass it forward.

Any big news up there recently?

1:50 AM  
Blogger alaskaguy said...

No real news. Stephens came to town for the Fourth of July and participated in the sand bag race. I think he was the only contestant in the 80+ division. I didn't get pictures...instead I slept in.

Meanwhile for Midnight Sun Fest (Solstice)...Gov Murkowski's Republican challenger came to town to enjoy some art. I didn't meet him but I met some of his college coed entourage...kind of Republican coed drones.

He did a radio show here (and I think his name starts with a "B"...obviously name recognition hasn't set in yet...which even though he's got a "great issue" to get Alaskans riled up...people can't remember his name...so we'll see. Anyway...he did a radio show here and hammered at Murkowski's decision to support a natural gas pipeline that would run through Canada. The bumper stickers are already out...and they have a very Alaskan way of putting things.

CANADA MY ASS...IT'S ALASKA'S NATURAL GAS

I want to say his name is Binder...or something like that.

The Democrats don't seem to make the news these days. There are two primaries here..the Republican and the "Combined" The "Combined" includes Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, and anyone but a Republican.

I guess the other thing "semi-major" here at least is that Alaska's only locally produced National Public Radio show has folded due to lack of funding. Independent Native News was produced in Fairbanks. They were a big voice for native communities for all over the US...and were picked up by 30 or 40 public radio stations. They were probably most popular in Alaska and the West and Canada...places where there are organized communities of unassimilated First Nationals.

And the other thing is that my town of 4,000 people decided to terminate the services of its Congressional Lobbiest (i can't spell these days, that doesn't look right, but I'm too lazy to look it up). I was unaware that my town had a lobbiest...but looking around at our brand new port and our town police's fleet of 10 SUVs...I guess our lobbiest didn't do too bad. But the town's council decided that $60 a year wasn't getting our money's worse...and that the town can just use the services of the Joint Utilities Board's lobbiest??? So yes, apparently, we had two lobbiests...one for the joint Utliities Board and one for the town in general. Oh did I mention the new power plant we're building?

I guess I mention that because there was a great article in the NY Times about the phenomenon of local government lobbiests. If you haven't seen it...you should look it up. If I find it, I'll send you the link. It's just another example of monster that the beast has become...and the ways that representational government has broken down to who has the moolah.

Do you work in politics? Are you a journalist yourself? Are you an educator or a student?

Roll Tide, are you excited about football season?

I apologize if I entered this twice...I'm new at this...I guess I'm an inept blogger

3:35 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

No problem. I deleted the duplicate.

You don't hear about "combined" primaries often, though I know Louisiana does a nonpartisan one. That's a shame about the local public radio show; maybe it'll be back one day.

I'm intentionally vague about what I do, mainly because I want what I say to stand or fall on its own merit. As for football season, well, it just can't get here quickly enough, and I say that even with full knowledge that Alabama probably won't match last season's performance.

8:15 AM  

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