Running online schools for out-of-district students is a lucrative sideline for rural school districts, reports the New York Times, which focuses on tiny Branson, Colorado. Branson Online students don’t do well compared to traditional students, but cyberschools disproportionately attract kids who’ve done poorly in traditional schools, students with health problems and kids who are making work their priority.
“Cyberschools are the 800-pound gorilla of the choice movement, although vouchers and charter schools get a lot more attention,” said William Moloney, education commissioner in Colorado, where state financing for online schools has increased almost 20-fold in five years – to $20.2 million for 3,585 students today from $1.1 million for 166 full-time students in 2000.
Branson’s superintendent simply bought commercially available software and hired teachers to provide support via e-mail.
Motivated, self-disciplined students — and those with motivated parents — can make online learning work. Overall, however, attrition is high at Branson Online, and scores are low.