Loading…
Monday, April 21, 2014
Current Weather
Loading Current Weather....
Published: 10/8/2012

EDITORIAL

Virtual schools

Nearly 30,000 stu­dents in Ohio, from kin­der­gar­ten through 12th grade, take on­line classes. Na­tion­ally, more than a mil­lion stu­dents en­roll an­nu­ally in In­ter­net-based courses. But whether the rush to re­place teach­ers with tech­nol­ogy is a good idea re­mains an open ques­tion.

Net-based ed­u­ca­tion can ben­e­fit stu­dents who have trou­ble fit­ting in at school, are bul­lied, can't keep up, have to make up classes, or need classes that aren't of­fered by their schools. On­line work also pro­vides teach­ers new ways to track stu­dent prog­ress. Toledo Pub­lic Schools has made on­line acad­e­mies and a Web-based credit-re­cov­ery pro­gram parts of its school re­form plan.

Last year, Idaho be­came the first state to man­date that ev­ery high school stu­dent take on­line courses to grad­u­ate. Mich­i­gan, Flor­ida, and Ala­bama also re­quire an on­line-learn­ing com­po­nent.

In Flor­ida, though, thou­sands of stu­dents en­rolled in on­line courses have no con­tact with teach­ers. The trend is grow­ing, of­ten pushed by school dis­tricts that are strapped for cash and pri­vate com­pa­nies that profit from on­line courses. 

Ohio's vir­tual schools re­ceived $209 mil­lion in state aid in 2010-11, But they may have spent only half that amount on di­rectly ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents.

De­trac­tors warn that stu­dents in on­line courses could be tempted to cheat more of­ten, and that schools might make on­line makeup classes too easy to in­flate grad­u­a­tion rates. They won­der whether com­puter courses can rec­og­nize and ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent learn­ing styles. They worry that stu­dents al­ready spend too much of their time at­tached to tech­nol­ogy — text-mes­sag­ing, play­ing video games, and vis­it­ing so­cial me­dia sites.

Few stud­ies com­pare the ef­fec­tive­ness of on­line and face-to-face learn­ing. A 2010 U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­view of re­search found that stu­dents in vir­tual class­rooms per­formed bet­ter than their peers in tra­di­tional class­rooms — but only when the on­line course had an in-per­son teach­ing com­po­nent. Stu­dents who learned ex­clu­sively on­line, the sur­vey found, did no bet­ter than those who at­tended brick-and-mor­tar schools.

In Ohio, ev­ery on­line school met value-added mea­sures on the 2010-11 state school re­port card. But pre­lim­i­nary re­sults from 2011-12 sug­gest they all failed to meet the mea­sures last year.

The num­ber of Ohio stu­dents tak­ing on­line courses has in­creased 12-fold since 2000. Col­lec­tively, they would form the state's third-larg­est school dis­trict. State and lo­cal school of­fi­cials should pro­ceed cau­tiously as they col­lect more data about what works.

Gov. John Ka­sich rightly ad­vo­cates a blended ap­proach that re­quires stu­dents in on­line courses to have reg­u­lar face-to-face con­tact with teach­ers. In the long run, that ap­proach may pro­vide stu­dents the best of both ed­u­ca­tional worlds.



Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. If a comment violates these standards or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report abuse. To post comments, you must be a Facebook member. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.

Related stories