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Online Learning Offers Chances for Low-Income Students

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Online Learning Offers Chances for Low-Income Students

Raising expectations and recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers are all measures required to ensure minority and low-income students are receiving a good education, speakers at a recent conference said.??"To make progress, we have to address standards and accountability," said Janet Murgia, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza. "There are too many minority and low-income kids with low expectations."??Panelists who met recently at a town hall event sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation noted that teachers often have high expectations only of the students who already do well, not expecting students who struggle academically to improve. The town hall discussion took place in Chicago at the quadrennial convention of UNITY: Journalists of Color.??Beverly Hall said that when she began as the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, a district with a large black and low-income population, a survey of kindergarten teachers showed that many of them didn't think their students would graduate from high school.??"Teachers weren't confident in themselves," she said, noting that many of them were overwhelmed and intimidated by how poorly prepared for learning the children seemed as they were entering school. "So we've invested in teaching teachers how to teach."??Hall said Atlanta's teachers have done intensive work around literacy for the past few years. However, this emphasis has cost time that would otherwise be used in teaching science and math courses. ??"The styles of teaching are outdated and not flexible," said Patty Loew, associate professor of life sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There's a cultural disconnect."??To ensure that all children receive a high-quality education, Hall said, there must be a focus on improving the caliber of teachers.??"The most important issue is teacher quality," she said. "Teachers need to have the ability to teach and know the subject matter that they are teaching."??In public schools, this is not always the case; however, a growing trend in high school education may be able to solve this problem. Online high schools, though dependent upon some level of student discipline and self-motivation, feature courses taught by exceptionally qualified and motivated instructors.

"They're the best in the business" said Jamie Osborne, Headmaster of St. Mark's Academy, an online school for grades 7-12 scheduled to begin operations in September 2009. "By cutting out the overhead associated with a brick-and-mortar school, a much larger percentage of our funding can go to hiring and retaining quality educators."??Once high-quality teachers are in place, school systems need to do what they can to make sure those teachers stay at the schools. Hall suggested looking at teacher residency programs, where young teachers work under a mentor for a year at a full teacher's salary.??"If you attract quality teachers, you won't be able to keep them if you don't have quality leadership," she said.??"A high school diploma has to mean something. It can't just be someone getting a piece of paper. It has to be that the education was rigorous enough to prepare [students] to go to college," said Allan Golston, the U.S. program president at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, adding that often students who do everything they are told to do are able to get a high school diploma but are not prepared when they get to college.

In order to address this, online schools such as St. Mark's have taken the step of ensuring the full national accreditation of their courses. ?An estimated two-thirds of diploma-holding seniors are still unprepared for college, and only one in 10 children from low-income households earn a college degree, Bill Gates said in a video presentation at the beginning of the town hall meeting.

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