In The Rise of Cyber-Schools in The New Atlantis, Liam Julian points out that home-based cyber-schools rely on a parent to keep students on task, even if parents aren’t acting as instructors.
The curriculum is provided by an agency such as Connections Academy; a teacher with state certification oversees instruction, communicating with students and parents via e-mail, Web chat, telephone, and video-conference. . . . Students review material at their own pace, allowing gifted children to accelerate and stay engaged, and permitting those children who need extra time to get it, with plenty of help and individual attention along the way. Cyber-school pupils take the same state-mandated standardized tests as their peers in public school.
For this approach to succeed, cyber-students need discipline, motivation, and self-direction — just the qualities that they may have been missing in the real classroom in the first place. Also, parents of younger pupils must be deeply committed to their children’s schooling and able to devote several hours a day to facilitating lessons.
Most at-risk children don’t have an “education parent” at home, Julian writes.
. . . the millions of youngsters who languish academically, the data show, do not need self-guided learning but intense, hands-on, in-your-face teacher-guided learning. Struggling pupils require the opposite of what virtual education provides.
To escape a “fuzzy” pre-algebra class, my daughter took algebra in seventh grade through Education Program for Gifted Youth, which then used CD-ROMs. You didn’t have to be gifted to succeed; it did require a high level of self-discipline.
I see a huge future for online learning in higher education, especially for people who are working and/or raising kids while trying to meet career goals. For K-12, I think it may remain limited to kids with involved, at-home parents and the super-motivated.