Online schools go after ‘cyber-truants’

Minnesota’s online schools are pursuing cyber-truants, reports AP.

Stacy Bender, dean of students at Minneapolis-based Minnesota Virtual High School, uses software that analyzes the time students spend on lessons and their progress, so slackers are identified and quick learners aren’t penalized. She runs a web site on fighting cyber-truancy.

When a Minnesota school considers a student habitually truant, it’s legally obligated to notify the authorities in the students’ home county — meaning an online school may work with all 87 Minnesota counties. The notification triggers a process that typically includes meetings between educators, county officials and the student’s family to write a court-approved plan to get the student back to school. Violators can be sentenced to community service or fined. In very rare cases, parents can lose custody of the child.

State truancy law was written to force students to show up at bricks-and-mortar schools and has to be “interpreted” to go after online students who stop doing the work. With online enrollment growing, Minnesota legislators are working on updating the law.


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  1. My inclination is to be averse towards any form of online school in K – 12, but, I’ll put my aversion aside just for the sake of evaluating that mentioned method of tracking the attendance record of a student.

    My understanding is speculative, but this is how I imagine that it works. I assume that much like at a physical campus, a high school student’s online class will include units which are divided into sections. Those sections will probably consist of some series of exercises. A student will need to complete each of those exercises in order to raise their level of completion (i.e. from 0 to 100%). I’m guessing that a time and date stamp will be recorded every time that student submits some given section of exercises. Also, I’m guessing that the date of each log on and the duration of each log on will be recorded. That is the most charitable speculation that I could conceive of. Given my charitable speculation, would that be reliable data for tracking the attendance of a student?

    In terms of data related to duration of being logged on, that data alone simply means that the student is signed on to the online platform that he is supposed to be signed on to at a certain time. He doesn’t need to be physically at the computer to be logged on. Ok, but what about being logged on AND completing the given assignments. I think it would be more likely that a student is in attendance if he is completing exercises at a regular pace. However, there is no way of tracking whether someone is helping him complete assignments such as quizzes, essays in tests, and so on (or at least, I am not aware of one). Even if its just regular assignments like worksheets, again, the student enrolled in an online high school can simply get answers from a friend, and enter them all in to the exercises provided online. How could an online high school track whether a student is actually learning or just getting the answers from someone else? That’s not clear to me. I know that the issue is about tracking truancy, but technically, another student could be enrolled (as far as, for example, getting paid to do all the work, and hence, progressing through the lessons), and it’s not clear to me that an online high school would be cognizant about that.

    I imagine that it’s more difficult to cheat in person at a physical high school than behind a computer screen at home. Hence, based on progress and being present, I think truancy is much more reliable to track at a physical high school than at an online one. But, for now, I simply don’t wish to elaborate any further. If anyone desires further justification as to why I think that, I’ll try to follow up with my justification.