Oregon Schools Must Go Digital Now to Save Money, Energy, and the Planet

The energy crisis that now grips America is serious. There is no end in sight to the increases in costs for electric power, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel fuel. Something must be done NOW or we will find ourselves spending more to transport and house students than we do to educate them.

The solution is clean and simple and can be implemented immediately. Enroll all of Oregon’s students in the Connections Academy for the 2008 — 2009 school year and beyond.

The Connections Academy, which opened in 2005 and is approved by the state, offers a complete, tested, quality education on line. Students never need to leave their homes to complete their schoolwork. Everything the students need is supplied – computers and printers, textbooks, even a subsidy for Internet access. And the students at Connections learn and learn quite well. Their test scores were higher in reading last year than the state average. In math and writing their scores roughly matched the statewide performance of students attending regular schools.

What’s not to like? No school buses, no school bus drivers, no school buildings, no classrooms to heat and cool, no cafeterias to manage, no grounds to maintain, no custodians to pay, fewer teachers to pay, and no new construction.

The state currently pays Connections $6,500 per student. Oregon spends $8,500 per student now and has approximately 534,000 students statewide in K-12. You do the math — OK, I’ll do it — and we would realize immediate savings of $1,068,000,000 per year! One billion, sixty-eight million dollars saved simply for implementing statewide what is now wildly successful for some 1800 lucky students.

Additionally, we would be able to lead the nation in greenhouse gas reduction by parking our fleet of thousands upon thousands of school buses. We could also return that excess money to the taxpayers to help them cope with the energy crisis.

I believe this plan is what is called a win-win.

  • dean

    Jerry…give it a rest.

  • Steve Plunk

    Call me Grumpy McCrankypants but I have to agree with Dean. I prefer serious discussions. No offense Jerry but this is not serious.

    • Jerry

      I beg to differ. I am absolutely serious. If it is state-supported now, works for 1800 kids, what is the problem with expanding it statewide??

  • Dave Porter

    I find this a useful thought experiment both on the cost of education and how technology could be employed. Going statewide is a bit of a stretch, but expanding online education, both through charter schools and the traditional public schools, makes some sense. Note also, that I am an proponent of the importance of foreign languages in our smaller, more interconnected, and more competitive global economy. They are best learned through immersion, and to be really proficient a student should spend time in a foreign country that speaks the language they are learning. Some academic year study abroad programs cost less, including room, board and transportation, than the $8,500 per student per year. For example, one academic year study abroad program in Mexico for high school students cost $6,000 plus transportation. We could and should pay for up to about the $8,500 figure for high school students to study abroad. But I would not suggest sending all our high school students to Mexico to save money. We should always look for better and more cost efficient ways to educate students, and then find ways to make those ways part of our educational system.

    • Jerry

      Thanks Dave. I have written a couple satirical pieces so now everyone just assumes I am not serious.

      As I pointed out – if it works for 1800, is endorsed by the state, funded by the state, approved by the state, encouraged by the state – AND saves $2,000 per student, why on earth wouldn’t you expand it??

      Some people are so stuck in the rut of the past they can not even imagine the future, much less actually think about the changes that are inevitable.

      Many, many colleges are now completely on line for full 4 year degrees and more. Why not k-12 then? Perhaps not so applicable for the very young, but certainly by 5th ot 6th grade and on up from there.

      Also, I like your idea of the foreign study. Immersion is the best way to learn a language – not some 83 minute class every other day with 30 other students. It sounds like an excellent idea. And, as you know, much more would be learned than the foreign language as the student left home and friends and studied abroad.

      I commend you for your thoughtfulness and for your sound ideas.
      Those who want me to “give it a rest” and who think I am not serious are those afraid of new ideas, bold visions, the future, change, deviating from the status quo, etc. They are also afraid to consider new, different, sometimes radical ideas and concepts like the Connections Academy, which appears to be doing quite well after serveral years of successful work teaching on line.

      With attitudes like theirs we will never see solutions to our energy problems. Or solutions to other problems. To boldly go seems lost on those who are fearful of new ways of doing things. I respect their right to disagree with my ideas, but I can hardly respect their fear of considering real solutions that are right in front of us – like Connections Academy in Scio, for example, just waiting for more widespread implementation.

      I say consider it – nay, just do it! At this point, what would we have to lose? And there is so very much to gain.

      By the way, did you know that our air traffic control system is willing to take top students right from high school for training? Who would need college when they could work in a field whose median annual earnings are currently $117,240?? And where they would not have to pay to be trained. This is new thinking at its best. One does not need to study Japanese poetry to be an air traffic controller. It would seem strange to recommend to a student not attending college, but to someone with the desire and aptitude for air traffic control, for example, that would be exactly my advice. Just think, when the student’s peers were graduating from college after four years of attending classes and amassing debt to the tune of 30-40 grand a year, our controller would have made more than that already!

      Supply and demand. It is always supply and demand.

      But, I digress. Thanks again for your kind and thoughtful comments.
      This is how these blogs are supposed to work. Enough with the name-calling and callous dismissal.

  • Joanne Rigutto


    Isn’t Connections Academy to aid in or facilitate home schooling?

    While I applaud all those parents who home school their children, I’ve known a few of them, home schooling requires that the parent be willing and able to stay at home with their children and be the teacher, or at least the supervisor. That’s a lot of work and requires that a family be in a position financially that enables one parent to stay at home with the kids. Not everyone is able or willing to do that. That’s why, for a long time, we’ve had school houses and teachers.

    A long time ago it was the people of the town that hired the teacher and the classes were taught in one building. My boyfriend went to a one room school house in rural Missouri in the 30’s and 40’s. Now, we have a more sophisticated school system, but sending kids to school ain’t new. People have been doing so for a long time for a reason.

    While I think that the type of educational system that Connections Academy offers should be available to anyone who wants to commit to educating their kid(s) in this way, I don’t think it will ever be used by the majority of parents. And I think it would be a terrible mistake to leave a kid at home and expect him/her to go through the program on their own. That just won’t work.

    When I was in grade school and high school the one factor that I noticed made the biggest difference in how well a kid did in school was how interested the parents were in the kid’s education, which was also an indicator of how much they valued education. I went to Sellwood school in SE Portland and later Cleveland high school, two of the roughest, at the time, schools in the PPS. I went to school with kids who’s families were dirt poor and those who’s families were pretty well off. I went to school with kids who’s families supplemented their incomes by selling drugs, mostly weed. In all of those cases, the kids who’s parents bird dogged the kid’s education and took a lot of interest in the kid, those kids did well. The kids who’s parents couldn’t care less usually were mediocre or did poorly in school. That cut straight across income levels.

    • Jerry

      No, Connections Academy is not really designed just for home schoolers. The program requires that the students have some adult (they call them learning coaches) to assist and help monitor the student, but it does not have to be the parent. Plus, they have licensed teachers on staff who can help either the coach or the student with problems. Their program could be expanded far beyond what is being done now and it could be expanded far beyond just traditional home schoolers.

      Anyone can learn more at their web site at http://www.connectionsacademy.com.

      However, you are correct in stating that parental support and involvment is the single most important factor in any student’s success in school.

      In fact, so few parents actually care that the ones who do stick out like sore thumbs and the teachers will make sure those students learn, as they don’t want to deal with angry parents.

      All one really need do to make certain their child is getting a good education is to meet every teacher, look them in the eye, and say “I am very concerned with my child’s progress. I need to know if there are any problems along the way. I will help you all I can. I plan to visit your classroom for a minimum of 45 minutes once a week.”

      Of course, you actually have to follow up on that, but it will do the job!

      • Joanne Rigutto

        I don’t think that parents necessarily have to visit a classroom every week, although that would be helpful as long as there weren’t too many parents visiting. That would be too much of a good thing and would tend to disrupt the class.

        I’ll use my mother as an example of how a parent can stay involved without visiting the class while it’s in session.

        My mom valued education highly, both school education and out of school education. She was interested in learning, for herself, her whole life. My mom went to PTA meetings occasionally, more at the begining of my and my brother’s schooling than at the end. She went to the parent/teacher meeitngs quite often and actually talked with the teachers she met. She kept in touch with what was going on at my school by asking me about my classes, how they were going, what I liked and didn’t like about them, what I was learning, etc.. She helped with my homework. I suspect that this was to help her learn new things and to enable her surveillance of the schools that I and my brother were going to as well as the PPS in general.

        When she found a discrepancy or innapropriate activities at the school she was like a momma bear protecting her cubs. I remember one time when she was notified by the school that I was about to fail typing class. This was at Sellwood. After first talking to me about why I was failing, she marched me down to the school after scheduling a meeting with the school principal and the teacher. Her goal was to find out if it was my fault, the school’s fault, or a combination of the two that I was about to fail the class. When she found out that the teacher was providing pretty much no supervision to the students in the class, not making us do our class work, and in fact was allowing students to go to the library during class time instead of doing our lessons, she unloaded on the teacher. When the principal told her that she should be thankfull that she was notified of my impending failure in the class, she turned and unloaded on the principal. The whole time I just sank lower and lower in my chair. Had I been the one who was screwing up all on my own, without the help of the teacher, I would have caught the brunt of her wrath. As it was, I caught it at home for screwing up and not doing my class work. A deal was worked out for me to make up all of the class work that I had blown off and was able to pass the typing class, albeit with a pretty low grade, but at least I didn’t fail.

        Another incident happened when she saw that the school wasn’t being cleaned. At one point it was pretty filthy. She made some phone calls and probably because other parents were making the same calls, the school was cleaned up and it stayed clean.

        On the other hand, in my senior year in highschool, when I wanted an extra art class and my counselor was going to force me into an english class that I didn’t need, my mom stood up for me in my choice and told the counselor that as far as she was concerned I shouldn’t have to attend that particular english class. I had declared that if I was forced to enroll in that class that, not only would I not ever attend, but it would result in the only flunk on my record and would keep some other student who either wanted or needed to attend that class from doing so because they had enrolled me into it. This was a college prep course. At the time I was required to have 3 english credits to graduate and because of the english courses I had attended already and all of the foreign language classes I had taken, I actually had in effect 7 english credits already. I didn’t need the class to graduate, I had no intention of going to college after highschool and had infact been accepted into a second year russian language class at Reed college that I would be attending in my senior year of highschool anyway. I explained all of this to the counselor and to my mom, and when the counselor called mom, she explained to the counselor in no uncertain terms that not only would I not attend the english class, but mom wouldn’t gain say me. In the end, I got my art class back. I had been dilligent and gotten all of my required classes in during the first 3 years of highschool and had only electives to button up my senior year. I had a great time and really enjoyed that year.

        If more parents were engaged at that level and for the whole length of time that their kids were in school, we wouldn’t have the drop out rate and the number of poorly educated kids that we do in public schools. If the parent’s stay engaged, it helps the kids do as well as they can, and it keeps the schools functioning well.

        BTW, when my mom found the shool doing things that were good, she praised the staff also when appropriate. I think this mostly happened at the parent/teacher meetings.

        There are too many people not interested enough in their kid’s education. I lay this off on the parents. I’ve personally known several people who didn’t care one way or another if their kid went to school or not. That’s a shame. It really short changes the kid.

        • Jerry

          I said to visit once a week only because a poor teacher will be very upset if you do and then you will know you need to get the student out of that class.
          A good teacher will welcome you – and then maybe you won’t have to go each and every week, but I can tell you this much for certain. If every parent visited at least one class a week, for the whole class period, we would have FAR fewer problems in our public schools. FAR FEWER.
          Trust me on that.

          • dean

            Jerry…what is a “visit?” If a teacher has 30 kids, and every kid has a parent show up once a week, that is 6 parents a day. If the teacher is sitting around talking wih the parent for 1/2 hour each, that takes nearly 1/2 of each day of instruction time away.

            Parental involvement is crucial, but visiting with a teacher every week is over the top. When my son was in grade school I coached the chess club. When he was in junior high I co-coached his basketball team. So he knew I was around and interested. Plus, since his mom is a teacher at another school, she knew if was hitting the books at home or not. There are other ways for parents to be there and actually be helpful without getting in the way of the teachers.

            But then…maybe you are just being facetious again. Once can never know with you any more. The price of comic success.

          • eagle eye

            Yes, he certainly has me wondering. Is his latest crackpot piece for real, or is he just putting us on? You have to admit, this takes real genius.

          • Jerry

            Eagle – no need for the genius comment. This idea will save more energy than any idea I have seen you post. It is for real, by the way.

            Dean – first of all, most parents will never do this, so your numbers are way, way off. Second, the parent is not to talk to the teacher – simply visit the class to learn what is going on and help if asked to.

            Good teachers would be delighted if 6 parents showed up every day.

          • dean

            Yes Jerry. Who schedules their visits? Do they just all show up whenever they want? Have you ever experienced how kids change their behavior with strangers present? What if 10 parents show up at once?

            Sorry…you are not fooling me. Your idea is too ridicuous to be serious. I’m onto you now buddy.

          • Jerry

            Any of the parents could easily set up a schedule. Man, you are really a negative, no-can-do sort of guy. Stuff like this is easy. Very easy.

            Nay saying is easy, too. Doing something takes effort.

            I suggest at some point you try leaving your negativity behind.

            It might just help.

          • eagle eye

            No, Jerry, I really mean it. I haven’t the slightest idea whether this is for real or not.

            Are you planning to run for super of schools? Or put this in an intitiative? I say go for it!

            Hey, I have another idea. Why not require all offices to be run from home, online? No more commutes, no more business travel. No more cluttering up the landscape with office buildings! That would be far bigger than the schools. And there might even be someone to supervise the kids while they’re surfin’ the web all the day.

  • Jerry

    It is for real.
    And, many businesses already allow and encourage home offices. This is nothing new.
    When I worked for Compaq I had a home office and that was 10 years ago!
    We need to use technology when and where we can to save energy and wasted time and resources.
    It is that simple.
    My plan does exactly that.
    It is a good plan, a sound plan, and a worthy plan.

    • dean

      Sure Jerry….wink wink. We get it. Lol.