Public education was one of the top priorities this past legislative session, with more than 200 bills passed relating to education issues. The majority of the passed laws relate to amending previously existing laws and introducing new reform issues, such as reforming public school accountability, restructuring prekindergarten, voucher issues and improving educator quality. Hardly any attention was paid to improving the quality of education in the classroom.
One method to improve the quality of education in Texas classrooms is through distance learning. Distance learning is a way to deliver educational instruction to students who are not physically present in a traditional setting, such as a classroom. As a common practice in higher education, its implementation in primary schools could be beneficial, as state Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), chair of the Texas Senate Education Committee, believes.
“Very large areas of this state are rural and don’t have the best access to teachers, but with distance learning, they can do it over the internet and with the use of technology,” Taylor said. “We can also speed up the education process by providing instant feedback … and the teachers can immediately tell how well the students can grasp the topics.”
Professor Joan Hughes of UT College of Education also agrees with the use of distance learning in Texas classrooms to further raise the quality of education.
“Distance learning is certainly a great option and opportunity for expanded access to learning opportunities,” Hughes said. “Online courses, though, can be taught in many different ways — independent learning, lecture-based, team-based, etc. — that may lead to greater or less success with students.”
Distance learning is a good opportunity to improve the quality of Texas education by leveling the playing field and giving students the same educational resources that others enjoy in urban areas. However, not everyone will agree with this innovative policy.
“Unfortunately, we have some groups that push back against changes and want to do what we always have done,” Taylor said. “The facts are we are not the best today and we have a long way to go to be the best.”
Of course, these new innovative ideas in classrooms are only possible if the Texas Legislature has the necessary funding to create them, and distance learning is not the only worthwhile investment for the Legislature. While quality education is not solely technology-driven, programs such as technology integration, specialization and teacher-driven choices in school technologies require funding, according to Hughes. All of these programs can promote higher quality education.
“There are not unlimited funds, so you need to find better ways of handling education. That’s where technology comes in — [supporting] teaching methods in schools running different ways models for other schools to follow in innovative ways,” Taylor said.
Distance learning is one of many ways that Texas public education may improve. Distance learning may present opportunities in rural areas with few allotted resources through expanded learning initiatives. Reaching students is the first step in educating them. As distance learning is already in use in so many higher education institutions, it could be a seamless transition to the field of primary education. The resources exist; the state just needs to commit better funding to help reach all Texas students.
Chen is an international relations and global studies senior from Galveston. Follow him on Twitter @ZhelunC.