My daughter asked the other day about why the sky is blue. It turned into a talk about light waves. Sure, it was a teachable moment but my bad; I’m not a licensed teacher.
I now know how wrong I was. I heard it from a state lawyer arguing before an appeals court about the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. Parents are incompetent to recognize such moments – that’s what he actually said – so the public charter school needs to be shut down now.
The lawyer, who represents the Department of Public Instruction, was siding with the big teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council. The union four years ago sued the department to shut down the academy, a public school that offers classes to 850 students statewide. Now, the state has switched sides and says the school is breaking the law, a claim already rejected in court. All the school is breaking is paradigms.
Here’s how it works: Children log on with software made for virtual schooling. They go to a virtual class with a live teacher, or they have lessons assigned by a teacher, or they do one-on-one work with a teacher, or they get their homework evaluated by a teacher, or they talk on a phone or meet face to face with a teacher. Notice who’s involved.
Why, it’s the child’s parent, claim the educrats and the union. The nub of the case is that because parents help when children are stuck or act as an on-hand coach, it means they’re really the teachers. They’re unlicensed; ergo, the school’s illegal. Let this be a warning when your tot asks for homework help.
The state’s lawyer, Paul Barnett, said that when teachable moments come to academy kids, parents can’t recognize them. “This school depends on unlicensed, untrained, unqualified and, um, adults who are not required to prove competence,” he told the court.
He later says that the state wants parents involved in schools. Just wipe your boots first, you peasants.
Aside from what insults the state hurls at the academy’s parents, “it really is almost demeaning to the work our teachers do,” says Principal Kurt Bergland.
“I home-schooled before,” says parent Julie Thompson of Cross Plains. “This is different.”
The academy does mean that Thompson’s seventh-grade daughter learns at home, except when she joins other academy kids for hands-on science. But Thompson doesn’t plan the curriculum, teach the lessons or evaluate progress. The school’s 20 teachers do. Children move on only when those teachers say they’re ready.
The parents’ role adds to this. Some describe it as being a teachers aide, and Bergland, for years a teacher and administrator in a brick-and-mortar public school, says they get training similar to what aides get. “But the thing that they have way beyond most aides I’ve worked with is an understanding of their learner,” he says.
Naturally, the results are good. Even the state’s lawyer said so, only he claims they’re irrelevant.