Jay Mathews of The Washington Post discusses the unfortunate case of a Michigan middle school that replaced teachers with online instruction to disastrous results and puts this episode in the context of a persistent trend to economize education.
K-12 Online Education
In the last few decades, almost every area of life has been affected by the explosive growth of the internet and other digital technologies. Education is no exception. Despite its recent arrival on the education scene, the great potential offered by K-12 online learning has caused education reformers to sit up and take note.
Simply put, online learning seeks to deliver high quality and innovative education on a more flexible schedule through the use of digital resources. This can occur through full-time online classes, or a combination of both online and on-site classes known as "blended” or “hybrid learning."
Online education made its first appearance around the turn of the 21st century. At that time, virtual schools enrolled around 50,000 children. By 2011, that number had increased to 250,000 students. Virtual course offerings have also expanded and now offer everything from Physical Education to Advanced Placement courses. Although typically viewed as a public form of education, online learning is also used in many school choice options, including charter schools, private schools, and homeschools.
One of the most famous and thriving examples of K-12 online education is Florida Virtual School (FLVS). Originally begun as a pilot program in two Florida school districts, FLVS gathered steam in 1996 when it landed a state grant designed to promote education innovation. The school continued to grow in the following years, especially through the support of Jeb Bush, the state's education reform-minded governor. Today, "Florida is the first state to provide full-and part-time options to all students in grades K-12," with the state of Minnesota a close second in providing virtual education options to a majority of its students.
Because online learning is still in its early stages, debate continues over the pros and cons of the system. The debate largely revolves around the issues of cost, achievement, and interaction.
One of the most commonly touted benefits of virtual education is the lower cost. Due to their online nature, virtual schools don't need to spend as much on facilities and teachers—a welcome fact in a time of strained education budgets. According to one estimate, complete online learning costs approximately 35% less than a traditional brick-and-mortar education, while blended learning costs 10% less.
For individual families, however, virtual education may involve the hidden cost of requiring that one parent stay at home to oversee the student’s online learning. Virtual learning proponents acknowledge this, yet they also insist that online education is possible in families with two working parents.
Another cost issue of online learning arises from the fact that virtual schools are not bound by districts. This issue has made funding allotment confusing. To remedy this, and to ensure that virtual schools get the needed amount of funding, some have suggested that education money should follow the child to the school of his/her choice, rather than letting the money go to an established district as has been done in the past.
Achievement issues are another common question raised in relation to virtual education. Research demonstrates that some schools – such as Florida Virtual School - boast higher academic achievement than traditional education. Other data shows that virtual students attain a higher passage rate on Advanced Placement courses. Additionally, a 2010 Department of Education study found that "students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."
These successful achievement rates can be attributed to a number of things, particularly the fact that online learning allows students to progress at their own pace and have greater access to high quality teachers.
However, the apparent achievement advantages of online education have faced increased scrutiny as virtual learning has grown. According to a 2011 survey of Minnesota students, full-time, online high school students have a greater dropout rate than those in traditional classrooms. Furthermore, a 2012 study noted that students enrolled in classes with one popular online education provider failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards at a far greater rate than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Others worry that online learning provides an increased opportunity to cheat because virtual learners have the internet and its answers at their fingertips. Online education also demands that its students have a great degree of self-discipline, a fact which some believe could be detrimental to "[a]t-risk students" who already struggle in a normal classroom.
There are also concerns about the lack of social interaction between a virtual student, a teacher, and other students. Teachers acknowledge that it takes a lot more work and effort to ensure that students are learning as much as they would be in a traditional education setting. Yet, some families who have tried online education believe that it actually gives students more one-on-one instructional time with a teacher.
Proponents of virtual education are also quick to note that it successfully incorporates the "socialization" aspect into online education through class field trips, meeting days, and high school proms. In fact, some believe that virtual education may actually remove negative aspects of socialization, such as bullying and lost instructional time due to behavioral issues.
In the 2012-2013 school year, 31 states operated online schools, showing that despite the questions and concerns surrounding online learning, virtual education continues to grow. This topic describes that growth and presents a variety of other facts and opinions on K-12 online education in the 21st century.
More About This Topic...
Click thumbnails below to view links