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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Some like it virtual: Will online students learn less?


Enrollment is climbing in virtual schools, even as pandemic fears wane, reports Asher Lehrer-Small on The 74. Online schools saw an "enrollment explosion in 2020-21," he writes. That was no surprise. When "brick-and-mortar schools fully reopened and mask mandates fell, remote schools mostly maintained their pandemic enrollment gains — and in many cases added new seats." That is not what anyone expected.


Remote learning may have been a pain for some families, but others prefer it.

“It looks like it’ll stick,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. “In some states, the numbers went up temporarily and came back down a bit. But overall, if [families] are staying for a couple of years, I would expect that they would keep it going.”

Pre-Covid research found "students at online schools score far worse on academic tests than their peers learning in-person, even when controlling for factors like race, poverty level and disability status," reports Lehrer-Small.

It wasn't clear whether students who choose to go virtual are weaker students than demographically similar students who stay in traditional schools. Perhaps the new virtual students will be those who tried it and did well. Or not.

Heather Schwartz, a researcher at the Rand Corporation who has studied virtual schools during the pandemic, told Lehrer-Small she's worried about the trend. “Until we have proof the virtual schools can perform just as well — for at least some students — as traditional public schools, yeah, I’m concerned,” she said.

I think what we're really seeing is many more people combining homeschooling with online classes. Parents who have the time and energy to supervise their children's and supplement what they're not getting virtually are likely to see good results. If it's all up to the virtual school, most kids won't do well.

I worry about the rise in anxiety and depression among young people that was made worse by school closures, masking and fear. Children can use remote education to feel "safer at home," avoiding the discomfort of interacting in person with others.

4 Comments


Guest
Nov 16, 2022

I've taught co-op classes for homeschooled high schoolers for a decade. Around 5-6 years ago I added an online option. Both of my kids have taken a couple of online classes geared to homeschoolers. My older is currently taking an online DE course from a CC. I've got a few observations.

Asynchronous online classes can be great for motivated kids who are busy and have good study skills. They don't waste time driving around, they can complete each week's work at their own pace, and can spend more time on extracurriculars, work, or taking more classes. Barring good habits, this can also be successful for students with an involved parent who checks on progress regularly.

Unmotivated or disorganized students fall…

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Guest
Nov 15, 2022

I think virtual tends to combine the isolation of homeschooling with the time constraints of a school day - the worst of all worlds. My children have tried virtual classes before (as opposed to say, sites like Khan) and find them terrible. They prefer the current method we use (Read the book, do the problem sets or write the essay, I grade, then they can have free time) They learn better from paper than from screens unless it's a PBS documentary. Asynchronous learning can be fine, my second child is taking (in person) AP USH from the high school this year (The teacher is excellent, lots of good readings, essays and discussion) and she has to watch virtual classes sometimes as par…


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Guest
Nov 15, 2022

" think what we're really seeing is many more people combining homeschooling with online classes."


Oh, that's not it at all. You're seeing all the parents who kept schools in remote all 2020-21 (the parents who were a majority in many districts, despite the shrieking parents saying otherwise) choosing to stay in remote. Probably because they realize they get babysitters for free.

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Guest
Nov 15, 2022

The basic issue is the b&m zipcoding of low academic expectations. Attending virtual or private gets the student access to the grade level or higher academics that are appropriate and will lead to the ability to employ oneself on graduation. Second issue is health care costs...a working family can spend less on on-line school tuition than they will in annual oop and cost-sharing when using a b&m that is not addressing public health issues or student violence. Not an issue for nonworking parents who are getting free medical from the state or govt employees with high health care subsidies.

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