By Thomas O'Brien and Edward Fersch
Seventy-five years ago, use of a new technology resulted in a dramatic transformation of education in our region and in rural areas throughout the country. Until then, the one-room schoolhouse was the norm in rural places. Every back road and hollow had one; children simply walked to the one nearest their house. Each school had one teacher who taught every subject up to eighth grade. The expectation for most children was that an eighth grade education was sufficient. High School was only possible for those who lived in the villages or who could live with a family in the village during the week.
In the 1930s, new transportation technologies changed society. The automobile and its cousins meant that people could travel longer distances in less time. Educators saw the potential of this technology to transform education in rural areas; the school bus was born. Each hollow no longer needed its own school. There was now a safe way for the children from the relatively isolated farm families to travel greater distances to school each day. The one-room schoolhouses were closed and large centralized schools were built in the larger villages. Classes were organized by age and taught by a specialist in each subject. This new structure provided the students with many more educational opportunities. Student achievement soared.
Since its creation, the school bus has been the primary tool used to increase educational opportunities in rural areas. Many of the central school districts formed in the 1930's, including more than a dozen in our area, have been further consolidated. The state encourages these consolidations with funding for feasibility studies, along with increases in state aid for the newly formed district. The promise of these mergers is that the students would learn more in their new school and that the cost of their education would be reduced. Many state officials want more mergers; in fact, some have publicly stated that districts with fewer than one thousand students should be forced to consolidate.
It has been said that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But, everything is not a nail so carpenters carry a toolbox full of tools and use the correct one for each situation. Similarly, in education if we think that the only tool we have is a school bus, then every problem has to be solved with physical consolidation of school districts. But, we have other tools so we need to look at the specific circumstances in order to craft our solutions.
Many school districts in this area cover more than one hundred square miles and have fewer than five hundred students. Our school busses travel over all the back roads where the one-room schoolhouses used to be; children in some districts are on the bus for an hour. Further physical consolidation will necessarily mean more time on a school bus and less time in a classroom. Is this really the best way to provide quality educational opportunities in our area?
Today, new communication technologies are changing the world. Internet connections, video conferencing and other forms of digital technology have made it possible for us to communicate in real time with more and more people. Our generation needs to realize the potential of this technology to transform education in our time. We no longer need the school bus to bring students to the teacher; we can use this new technology to bring the teacher to the students. Teachers in one building can conduct a class containing students in many other places. Students can collaborate on projects with their peers who attend another school. People with similar interests can learn together no matter where they go to school. Rather than using a school bus to physically consolidate our school districts, we can use digital technology to cyber-consolidate them!
The requirements for cyber-consolidation are simple--high speed digital connections throughout the school buildings and video conferencing equipment. Additionally, teachers will need access to professional development courses so they can learn effective ways to teach in this new classroom. No new buildings are needed and there is no need for increased student transportation. Nevertheless, state funding is only available to districts wishing to physically consolidate. This makes no sense.
At the annual meeting of the New York State School Board Association last October, school districts across the state overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling upon the state to fund cyber-consolidation in the same way that they fund physical consolidation. We call upon the Governor, the Legislature, the Board of Regents and the State Education Department to act on this recommendation.
Seventy-five years ago, our ancestors saw a new technology as a means to increase educational opportunities for their children. Using the school bus, they created a new educational structure. Now, it's our turn. In today's digital technology, we have a tool that will allow us to re-design the educational structure of our time. Let's use it to create a system that will use our resources more efficiently, one that will give students access to many more educational opportunities and better prepare them to be productive citizens in the twenty-first century.
Thomas O'Brien is the superintendent of Roxbury Central School.
Edward Fersch is the Roxbury Central School District Board of Education president.
- Guest Column
Attitudes are changing on gas drilling
With elections over, the candidate lawn signs are gone. Otsego's permanent signage has once again returned. "For Sale" signs have reclaimed the lawns -- people attempting to sell and leave.
Balancing the city budget on kids' backs
It is ironic that the Nov. 12 issue of The Daily Star carried a story on Page 2 that the city is considering charging fees for recreation programs and paying the YMCA $65,000 for programming, staff and supplies, and on Page 3 a column by Cary Brunswick describes how poverty can affect the outcome of test scores for our youth.
Dude, where's my socioeconomic class?
Growing up in suburban and rural New Jersey, I had encountered the signs of it regularly.
Congress playing hunger games
On Nov. 1, the daily ration of Food Stamps (also known as SNAP) was cut for 47 million Americans. Each of these families now has $29 a month less to buy food.
Election choices: what are they, really?
It's going to be an interesting election, and one that determines our future for a long time. The governor is asking us to legalize casinos in upstate New York. Sustainable Otsego is asking us to support hops and breweries as our future. Most every candidate is promising to oppose fracking.
- Saturday, October 26, 2013
Nothing 'sustainable' about Otsego
By definition, our local economy is not sustainable. We are losing people due to their inability to find jobs and high taxes. Our local governments and school boards are cutting programs. The county is being forced to find a new owner for the Manor. Those things we know.
- Saturday, October 19, 2013
Sustainable Otsego is part of the problem
In a flurry of letters to the editor last week, Sustainable Otsego unfurled its banner in support of its candidates.
Harpersfield track is criticized for a reason
A recent commentary by Steve Pushkar, who describes himself as a resident of Oneonta and New York Safety Track's "marshal," complains that everything he has been reading about the track has been negative. There is a simple reason for this.
- Saturday, October 12, 2013
Sustainability shouldn't be a dirty word
There has been some confusion recently about the definition of sustainability. There has also been some willful misrepresentation.
- Saturday, October 5, 2013
Who are the real conservatives?
The old way of thinking about politics doesn't work anymore. Let me explain why the current stereotypes fail us.
- Saturday, September 28, 2013
Some considerations on shale gas
We have been told that it is not economically profitable to extract natural gas from shale deposits, be they Marcellus, Utica, Bakken, or any others, unless the market price is at least $5 to $6 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf).
Motorcycle track's critics need to relax
For the past year, all that I have been reading about in The Daily Star concerning the New York Safety Track has been from one point of view, and it has been negative.
- Saturday, September 21, 2013
Gay rights push threatens free speech
Newspapers are usually advocates of free speech. But I've come around to the idea that liberals, including their print edition mouthpieces, are the greatest threat to free speech in America.
- Monday, September 16, 2013
We must do more to prevent bullying in schools
As a new school year commences, the routine for most children and teens remains quite similar to when I attended school several decades ago. This includes back-to-school shopping, anticipation of new classes and teachers, and the excitement of getting reacquainted with friends. Unfortunately for many, another part of the routine includes the fear of being the target of bullies. What's most unfortunate is that although we as a civilized society have made tremendous strides in sciences and technologies, we have yet to find a way to end this highly destructive problem, and until we do, we must not rest.
- Saturday, September 14, 2013
It's harvest time at farmers' markets
If you haven't had a chance to discover local farmers' markets, there's still time.
- Saturday, September 7, 2013
Frack dreams are based on hogwash
Chuck Pinkey has never met an intellectually suspect right-wing idea he doesn't adore.
- Saturday, August 31, 2013
What makes good sense, and what doesn't
- Saturday, August 17, 2013
How does one define self-defense?
The George Zimmerman case in Florida, and the public reaction to the jury's verdict of non-guilty, has given rise to much public discussion of the laws that govern the use of deadly physical force in self-defense.
Time for the Oneontas to go it alone
It's time for the two Oneontas to go it alone!
- Saturday, August 10, 2013
It takes a village to raise a showman
Just last night, after singing my last song, a charming 8-year-old girl came up to the bandstand and asked if I would sing one more song.
- Attitudes are changing on gas drilling