This next item comes from the U.S. Department of Education. It describes the benefits of virtual schools and online learning. Virtual schooling can benefit students for a variety of reasons, including offering talented and gifted students classes they can’t get in their regular school.
For other students, it’s the difference between going to school or dropping out:
The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts, found that “circumstances in students’ lives and an inadequate response to those circumstances from the schools led to dropping out.” Most students surveyed for the report said that their classes were uninteresting and lacked opportunities for “real-world” learning, so the students lost interest in going to school. Other reasons that students dropped out included the need to make money, to care for a family member, to raise a child, or because academic challenges caused them to fail or fall behind due to a lack of earlier preparation.Appropriately implemented, online learning can enable districts to provide solutions to help address each of these reasons students leave school and as a consequence, could play an important role in reducing the current rate of high school dropouts. A Project Tomorrow survey of more than 319,000 K-12 students nationwide discovered that 57 percent of high school students indicated interest in or have taken an online course in the past year, and 39 percent liked the self-pacing that online classes could provide. In 2007, the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) found that “42 states have significant supplemental online learning programs, or significant full-time programs, or both. Only eight states do not have either of these options, and several of these states have begun planning for online learning development.”
The Growth of Online Learning
Teens are one of America’s fastest growing groups of online users and consumers. Just six years ago, surveys showed that merely 60 percent of American school-aged children used the Internet. Yet as of November 2006, a PEW Internet & American Life Project survey showed a dramatic increase, with 93 percent of teenagers online regularly and more than nine in 10 Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 using the Internet. The fact is that more teens than ever before use the Internet as a way to interact with others–and it’s not just to send and receive email, but to create and share information and content more often than any other age group in the country.
While teens are immersed in the online culture, according to a 2007 survey by the Sloan Consortium, only 700,000 public school students, mostly high schoolers, enrolled in online courses in 2005-06. While the total number represents a very small sample of the total high school population, the latest Sloan figures represent a tenfold increase over the number enrolled in online courses over their survey in the year 2000, and that number is growing. A 2002-03 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report PDF (521 KB) on distance learning found that an estimated 8,200 public schools had students enrolled in technology-based distance education courses, which represents 9 percent of all public schools nationwide. That survey revealed that the percentage of schools with students enrolled in distance education courses varied substantially by the instructional level of the school. Overall, 38 percent of public high schools offered distance education courses, compared with 20 percent of combined or ungraded schools, 4 percent of middle or junior high schools, and fewer than 1 percent of elementary schools.
While some schools do respond to and embrace this new teen culture, there is still a “digital disconnect” between schools and students. In the 2002 PEW Internet & American Life Project study, The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet-Savvy Students and Their Schools, students revealed that the Internet helped them do their homework, and they described many other ways the Internet is used for education-related activities. Indeed, they use the Web as an “online textbook.” They sift through reference materials, organize information, and study with friends through instant messaging. Students report, however, that there is a “substantial disconnect between how they use the Internet for school and how they use the Internet during the school day and under teacher direction.” And even in the relatively small number of well-connected schools, students report that the quality of web-based assignments can be poor and uninspiring. Since then, there is increased acceptance of online curriculum, but many schools and teachers have not acknowledged that “online” is the way students communicate.
It is possible, nevertheless, to provide quality online learning opportunities that engage and inspire students. The number of online providers that utilize Internet technology to deliver effective, non-traditional learning approaches to students is growing, and several states are moving ahead with legislation that will offer online curricula as a practical alternative to the traditional classroom.
Challenging Students Outside the Classroom Walls
“Harnessing the power of innovation for the benefit of American schools is fast becoming an education imperative,” said Secretary Spellings in the introduction to the newest OII Innovations in Education Guide, Connecting Students to Advanced Courses Online. The Guide, along with a webcast that promoted its availability this past December, focuses on case studies from six providers who offer rigorous curricula to students through the Web. The online content includes a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) courses, International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, and other dual enrollment options that enable students to earn college credit while still in high school.
The Guide gives examples of promising practices in key areas including ensuring course quality; recruiting, counseling, and supporting students; and tracking outcomes for continuous improvement. According to the introduction, the Guide’s “aim is to familiarize districts and schools with the issues they must consider and address if students are to achieve success in this new form of learning.” But students are ready to welcome the virtual classroom.
For more on the topic, see the Flint Hills page on virtual schools.