Public schools go online

States and districts are launching online public schools, reports the Wall Street Journal in My Teacher Is an App.

In just the past few months, Virginia has authorized 13 new online schools. Florida began requiring all public-high-school students to take at least one class online, partly to prepare them for college cybercourses. Idaho soon will require two. In Georgia, a new app lets high-school students take full course loads on their iPhones and BlackBerrys. Thirty states now let students take all of their courses online.

Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools, up 40 percent in the last three years, and more than two million take at least one class online.

Achievement appears to be lower for virtual students, though it’s possible apples are being compared to oranges.

Districts hope to save money by outsourcing classes to online providers, reports the Journal.

In Georgia, state and local taxpayers spend $7,650 a year to educate the average student in a traditional public school. They spend nearly 60% less—$3,200 a year—to educate a student in the statewide online Georgia Cyber Academy, saving state and local tax dollars. Florida saves $1,500 a year on every student enrolled online full time.

If your teacher is an app, you’d better have an educated, at-home parent, who can answer questions immediately.  Not every student has that.


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  1. Mevelle Sage says:

    Online public schools are a sign of the times. They are beneficial to those students who come from families in which they are also required to work in order to help their family survive. There are some drawbacks however. When in an online setting your work is done primarily independently. There is no instant acess to an instructor to provide feedback which is so crucial on that level of education. Also as to where homework is concerned many parents are still not computer literate and may not be able to provide the support needed to their student. I feel that onlie schooling should stay to the higher level of education.

    • I expect that it would be pretty simple to set up a bank of teachers or tutors who could assist students with questions in real time, or something close to it. I suspect also that it would be underutilized, save perhaps in the 24 hours leading up to a deadline or test.

  2. It’s been my observation that most families who enroll their children in virtual schools do minimal standardized test prep at best, and many are outright anti-test. I know several moms who are proud that they deliberately encourage their children to answer randomly as a “protest” against having to take the tests. This is going to lead to lower test scores than children from similar demographics who attend schools that do extensive test prep (sometimes it seems more test prep than actual instruction).

  3. > If your teacher is an app, you’d better have an educated, at-home parent, who can answer questions immediately. Not every student has that.

    And if your teacher’s a bum who knows to the minute how long it is to the next weekend, summer vacation and their retirement that app can be pretty dreadful and still not do as much damage.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    In some areas, the virtual schools are also used to teach kids who’ve been suspended or expelled.

  5. My first reaction to online public schools is to dislike the idea of them. #1 Many students (I would guess especially in elementary school) require a lot of effort to focus on their assignments. The teacher can be more effective in helping them focus in person than through the computer screen. If a student doesn’t want to listen to a teacher, he/she can simply close the window or put the teacher on mute. That option isn’t available in person. Also, if a student gets distracted with going on other websites such as websites with games, email, facebook, and so on, there’s nothing that a teacher can do. Again, in person, the teacher can notice distractions in class and redirect them.

    I can probably think of other reasons why I dislike the idea of online public schools, but that’s what I have to say for now.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Teachers aren’t very good at getting the students to focus when there are 25 of them, and normal classrooms are very distracting. Heck, other students are incredibly distracting. Meanwhile, most virtual schools expect the parents of elementary school kids to be nearby to keep them on task.

      Also, it’s very easy to set up a limited access account on the computer that gives your child access to school but NOT any games.

      I’ve found that my ADHD, incredibly distracted, daughter does much better in a one on one setting. Short bursts of intense, personalized tutorial are much more efficient than 6 hours in a more diffuse instructional environment.

    • OptionsAdvocate says:

      Autif Kamal,

      Just curious, since you’ve developed such an opinion of online schools, have you ever spent time with an online student in their learning environment to verify what you’ve stated is even close to the truth? I sat in a B & M environment my entire life and did not get enough out of school because teachers were not captivating and I was done well before the other students. I spent the better part of my day wasted in a day dream state because I was an above average student. However, I’ve seen online students learn more than expected because they are captivated by reading, learning and interacting with classmates and teachers in a much more productive method than sitting in a traditional classroom and they can move forward instead of being held back by the class. Have you ever read a good book that was just too hard to put down because you were so engaged by the content? A good, quality online education is the same way – hard to put down.

  6. I used Kahn Academy to brush up on linear algebra for a class I was taking that used it. I was amazed at how effective it was. True, I had learned most of that stuff before, but it was still a lot more effective than I had expected. It may just be that Salmon Kahn is a really effective teacher… but that’s the great thing about online learning: now that those lectures are canned, they are around for all students for all time, nothing about linear algebra is going to change. It amounts to intellectual capital that pays interest forever.

    • OptionsAdvocate says:

      Great point! Salmon Kahn is a great teacher and the even greater part is that you can rewind and watch again and again until you “get-it”. One of the many benefits of online education.

  7. Working in an organization that provides a variety of educational options for students (charter high schools, online high school, alternative education program) I see the need to make an array of options available for today’s students. Online courses may not be the answer for everyone…in fact it isn’t. There are those students who need to be in a classroom with direct instruction and that’s how they learn successfully. There are students who simply think much faster than the class as a whole and need to move at their own pace just as well as the ones who comprehend subject matter much slower and need more review and time to soak up the information. As long as they are self motivated to follow a regimen and keep themselves on a schedule of consistent learning, online courses work incredibly well for them. You also have many teens today who are pursuing careers at younger ages…without online learning they would not have the opportunity to continue their education and complete their high school diploma. I think it’s an important milestone in their lives as well to achieve that.