Curriculum

Bennett’s Online Education System Needs Work, Critic Contends

By Andrew Trotter — May 30, 2001 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Educators who are hoping K12 Inc.—the educational technology startup that boasts William J. Bennett as its chairman—will deliver cutting-edge online education might be disappointed when the company launches its full courses this coming fall.

At least that’s what one skeptic said after the e-learning company, launched by the cultural commentator and former secretary of education, previewed its system for delivering online education at a press briefing at the Heritage Foundation here last week.

“In the 21st century, they’re delivering a 19th- century curriculum,” said Elliot Soloway, a professor of engineering, education, and information at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, after hearing a description of the company’s demonstration.

Mr. Soloway said the program, although designed to help any “committed” adult with average reading skills teach a child, didn’t appear to be well tailored to meet the needs of individual students, either.

K12 has been giving glimpses of its learning activities for kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade that in September it plans to deliver to online purchasers, who are expected to be families of home schoolers, several after-school programs, and at least one “virtual” charter school.

The snippets of what K12 plans to offer that were on display last week appeared to be typical worksheet-style computer lessons, with brief bits of animation or sound effects as rewards—which Mr. Soloway said is hardly revolutionary.

But rather than being technologically innovative, company officials say, the strengths of K12 and its products may lie elsewhere—and in a place that education technology companies have rarely ventured.

The company’s goal in using technology is “first of all, to do no harm,” said K12’s technology adviser, David Gelertner, a professor of computer science at Yale University, who, like Mr. Bennett, has been a critic of the way technology has been used in schools. He said technology’s role is to deliver “good materials, without generating dangerous nuisances, useless distractions, and educational cul de sacs.”

‘Intelligent Blackboard’

The computer “is also not supposed to replace books in any way,” Mr. Gelertner added, but to serve as an “intelligent blackboard for parent and child to look at together” and as a communication medium to create a broader community of learners.

Regardless of whether K12 comes out with online courses that are innovative, company officials said the courses, which cover most major subjects, will succeed in the markets the company plans to target—charter schools and home schoolers, who include many conservative parents to whom Mr. Bennett may particularly appeal. (“Former Education Secretary Starts Online-Learning Venture,” Jan. 10, 2001.)

“Our PR strategy [so far] can be summed up in two words—Bill Bennett,” said Ken Stickevers, the senior vice president of marketing for the McLean, Va.-based company.

A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as Bennett’s Online Education System Needs Work, Critic Contends

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Miami School Board Reverses Itself, Approves Sex Ed. Textbook
The board reversed itself again to accept the text but to maintain a block on access on the more controversial chapters.
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Florida School Board Rejects Sex Ed. Textbook Under Pressure
Critics said the material was not age appropriate for students in middle and high school.
2 min read
Image of books.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum 4 Ways States Are Exerting More Control Over Classroom Materials
States have limited power over what materials teachers use—but some are wielding influence anyway.
7 min read
Curriculum Opinion A Search for Common Ground: Navigating Tough Classroom Conversations
Should parents or legislators have a say in what subjects educators teach?
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty