Much of the investment our society makes in education is actually made in school buildings, consequential infrastructure (roads to get to school, cars to take kids to school, etc) and unproductive time traveling to and from those buildings. So, what if we were to simply close the school buildings, and redirect the funding thus released elsewhere.

How would you spend that money, to create an education system that honored the potential of our children?

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Here's a repost from my blog:

Maybe the accompanying image for this post should have been a black hole, since that's where a lot of the money spent on education in the US goes. Instead, I chose the cover of Schoolhouse Rock's "Money Rock" video, which features the song about how family budgets are spent.

It's hard to get the exact figures, since financing for US schools comes from a variety of sources (federal, state, and local) and districts vary widely on how much they spend per pupil, but there's no doubt about the fact that a large part of school spending (about 40%) goes towards things that aren't instructional expenses. Buildings, buses, energy; these costs all add up to more than $150 billion every year in the US. This at a time when overall school spending per pupil is going up annually, even in inflation-adjusted terms.

So let's cut out those expenses, freeing up the money for other uses.

"But we have to have those services to support education," many would say. Really? Do we have to keep doing things the way we've always done them because that's the way we've always done them? If someone from 1950 (or heck, even 1900) traveled through time to 2007, school is probably the only place they'd recognize as similar to their own era: workplaces, stores, and even many churches have changed and adapted with the passing of time, while schools are essentially the same.

Businesses are finding that cutting non-essential expenses is the best way to save money and remain competitive. That's why we see more brick-and-mortar stores going online and companies cutting travel costs using teleconferencing and telecommuting. Why can't we see more of this kind of thinking in education?

Think: what might we be able to do with the $15 billion spent on pupil transportation, or the $21 billion spent on new schools (not to mention the billions spent on interest to pay off the debts for them), or the $8 billion spent on energy for schools, or the $6 billion or so spent on textbooks?

Even just $1 billion dollars is a lot of money. As someone has said, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."
Great question. Coming at this from another side, this is something that would HAVE to happen if avian flu broke out. I know no one wants to think about that, but it's actually a useful exercise. How would education continue if all the kids stayed home? In that scenario, think of how vastly different people would be in their preparation for a "switchover." Most people on CR2.0 would be have to tutor--under emergency conditions--about 20 or more others: their non-tech school colleagues.

Ok, back to the "regular" non-emergency side. Close the doors of the school building, tell everyone we're trying a new way of learning?

A whole new world opens up. I'd be Ms. Frizzle on the Magic School Bus, taking small groups of children all over the place. We'd be in city centers and outback in the wilderness. We'd attend all sorts of performances, help senior citizens, build houses for the homeless, study local food production and distribution. Kids would work as apprentices for professionals and craftspeople in the community. And all of it would be connected to other students' and educators' work both locally and globally. We'd form networks online to support each other. (sound familiar?;) Kids would record and report on other kids' projects and share them with the world. I could go on and on, as could many on the network. The idea of schools without buildings seems very refreshing.
Aren't we wedded to the existing system for at least 20 more years -- realistically. The powers that be still have their heads in how they were taught, not how the most efficient ways to teach might be. I think that we are going to have to wait until this generation of students becomes parents, our generation (at least mine - the 70's) just isn't ready for something as radical as no school buildings and to tell you the truth I don't believe that I am yet. The technology may be there but the collective will is not. So we are stuck with concentrating on getting students ready to take their multiple choice "advancement" tests and having students unprepared for life beyond high school. From what I have seen so far of Web2.0 technology, many paradigms have to change and will change - (politicians, teachers, parents and public opinion of what school is and what it should be) -- and again I personally don't believe it will significantly change in the near future. I was on the other side of the fence myself not very long ago and understand where they are coming from. The no school house school may happen in the future, but it will not happen very soon unless an emergency happens as Connie pointed out. Then we have the social aspect that school provides, athletic opportunities, it might even mean that some parents have to become more involved in a child's life. Thinking about all the "social services" that the school house provides, I think there will always be a school center, but hopefully it will look much different than the present model and become much less of a baby sitting service. I guess it is time to get off my soap box on moral and social responsibility and the roles that educators play, should play or will play.
Hi Ian, What a hot topic!! In some respects I would support your ideology. I think that independent and personalised learning is the way forward and in actual fact, your ideology mirrors the way that many young people today learn in their own time. With some of the figures quoted by Jerry Aldrich, the potential of online learning environments would in many ways supersede the traditional schooling system, and provide students with a far more motivating environment in which to lean. I have heard of stories about students having to 'dull down' when they go to school, because the traditional spoonfeeding approach offered by many schools does not offer enough of a challenge.

On the other hand, I don't think that the social features of attending school and completing activities such as drama, or sports can be beaten, but, in reality these do not need to be undertaken in a school setting. Discipline would have to be looked at very hard in a virual schooling system. What would happen if a child simply 'went missing' from E-school?

In fact, I am having an involved in an interesting thread with a teacher who teaches soley online, and she think the benefits derived from this education outweigh any negatives. To join in visit the Pedagogy room. Discussion at http://classroom20.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=649749%3ATopic%3A68482
Hi Chris,
My own kids would understand what you mean about "dulling down" to go to high school.
I agree with you about drama and sports: very important. Also, what about making music, and cooperative face-to-face group learning? We'd have to figure out ways for these to thrive. But think of the relative abundance of time that would be available, and the new scheduling opportunities...
There are models for change. The Hutterite colony schools here in Manitoba have a unique model for educating their kids. Since each school is too small to support a full staff, they have developed a network of about 25 schools around the southern part of the province that share teachers via video conferencing. The teacher I talked with this summer indicated her English literature classes generally involve kids in about 8 different locations at once. She seemed to take it in stride, but the rest of us in the seminar with her were pretty impressed.

Who needs bussing when you've got video conferencing?
James,

I like your idea here. Studying existing models to understand how others are working to cope and hopefully thrive in a distributed environment seems like a great idea. Does anyone else know of have unique models? Have there been additional discussions (forums) on Classroom 2.0 on this topic?

Should we create another discussion on this forum to look for these models?

Jim
On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that we would ever do away with the building (so sacred in some sense, even if schools have suffered from the most reprehensible neglect!) - but at the same time, my own job is the direct result of "doing away with the buildings" in a certain sense - my university keeps building new buildings, of course, but they are not in the Humanities - the big donors are giving money for a new Journalism College building, new joint venture business-science buildings, new Chemistry building, and so on - but they literally have nowhere to put the Humanities instructors.

so, in order to keep offering courses in General Education which all the students (even Architecture students! even Journalism students!) need to graduate, I was offered a job teaching fully online courses, and my boss apologized PROFUSELY that I would not be able to have an office...

meanwhile, I was DELIGHTED! I didn't want an office at all (see my comments at this synchronous/asynchronous discussion here) for why I think blending and reliance on face to face is not even good educational practice, much less being a good use of time)... of course i had to pretend that I was sorry I would not be chained up in an office... but I was rejoicing all the while!

so, I was lucky that the budget crunch which prevented the university from even putting me in a building FREED me from that constraint!

now I even live in a different state from my university (taking care of elderly in-law), so it is good for everybody in every way.

I doubt we will get rid of the existing buildings, but when faced with a choice of building a new building or hiring new online faculty, some schools, pressed for cash, will opt for the instructors! speaking for myself, I am very glad about that! :-)
I love having my kids use Internet tools in the classroom. I teach a population of great kids who, by and large, have awful , irresponsible parents, no regard for their kids' needs, uneducated, lots of drug problems, usually no dad in the home, and all kinds of abuse going on that we may or may not ever find out about so that we can report it. So, let's not leave these kids out of the "close the school" discussion. For many, as we all know, going to that particular building away from the chaotic home is likely the only semblance of order and meaning in a child's day. Maybe the only full meal also. I use lots of technology with my kids, connect them with the world, but I supply that technology in my classroom -- it is not available in their homes. Computers usually get hocked for drugs. Flickr, Skype, Google Docs, Jing, VoiceThread, Podomatic, ...on and on are great, but not consistently available to low-income groups beyond the school building. Even when they might be available, there needs to be a responsible adult to make sure the kid is on schedule, make sure the computer is working right, make sure assignments get done....etc.

So I believe, with all due respect, that we are in the realm of ivory tower thinking when we start talking about closing the buildings. The concept is basic: there is a location to which a child can go to be in the presence of some kind of learning, maybe not the best, but better than staying on the streets all day. -- Terry
Sorry to say Ian that I just don't see that your advice about being part of the problem instead of being part of the solution will help us move forward in any way. I have sat back and read rss feeds from some of the "top" people involved in advancing technology in schools. Honestly, it's turning into a lot of whining. Investing in our children and our schools is the best thing we can do. You're bailing on us!!! How about be proactive and sponsor an after school tech club? How about offer tech training to your local school district? How about partner with your neighborhood school to sponsor tech contests or activities? How about facilitate tech workshops for school system administrators and other tech and curriculum leaders in your ciy or state? I say push away from your latest and greatest web 2.0 widget, stop blogging, posting, twittering, and whining about it and be a positive influence for change. And btw, change will come, but not as fast as 120 gigs of RAM. Don't give up on the schools or our children- I'm not. :)
Schools are supposed to have at least one important role in society. This is not the one everybody think about, institutions for teaching. This is another one, minimizing the impact of class inegalities. Education is mandatory. Poorest or most disadvantaged pupils are helped out. Each kid is given the same chance. Well, that's the theory at least.

My values favour a constructivist approach, project-based, etc. where a school building are not essential. There are also teaching methods that I consider more efficient than traditional classroom teaching. However, I can see a risk that if school buildings were to be closed down, these other methods would come to benefit the already advantaged pupils. There is then a risk for the disadvantaged ones to be not just left behind... but to not be included at all.

I am really not for these programs "no kid behind" where you lower the level of expectations to what the weakest student in the class could be expected to achieve. But to have a kid deprived of an equal chance just because his parents cannot buy a computer or a training program would be inadequate.

"No one shall be denied the right to education"

It would be quite costly to implement methods that guarantee this without any sort of school structure.
As far as the government doing it, there's no chance. However what if we could use these vouchers from NCLB and apply them to a virtual learning environment. If the government saw from the data collected on these students that it worked and student learning was greatly enhanced then they may start somekind of a hybrid design. For me school was so boring I slept through most of it and still had a 4.0 for most of my high school career. It took about 15 minutes to do the work and we had 50 minutes of time in which to do it. I would much rather have gone out and gotten a job from noon on. So what if we let kids/parents choose? Say a kid is bored with school so instead of taking the funding away from the school and making the parents pay for VL alternative we have people that work with the parents to the student up with an appropriate VL school, well beyond the typical text based online classes widely available today. Then the kids that need to go to a building and be taught would have that available. But for the kids that have the ability and desire to become the best they can would have opportunities like never before. The money that would have previously went to the school would be used for paying for an adaquate dedicated internet connection, a computer with video conferencing capabilities, and the teacher. Some rural areas could move all the kids to this when the declining enrollment reached a level where it didn't make sense to keep the school buildings open.

As far as sports and drama are concerned I've always felt that those responsibilities should rest on the community anyway. When you look at the amount of money, and lost academic time, that is wasted on school sports it's incredible. Also for band and other classes that are reall better taught face to face we could find/fund places for that at a greatly reduced cost to what we're doing now and only the kids that wanted those classes would have to come.

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