The Increasing Popularity of Online Education

As of this year, 5 million students under eighteen have taken at least one class online. More than 300,000 students are enrolled online full time. 

Online education is now available in some form in every state. In five states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia), students are required to take at least one online or partly-digital class to graduate. 30 states and Washington D.C. offer full online schools. 

Today, "online high school" can mean several things, from technology integrated classrooms to taking a few credits online to being a full time virtual student. 

Having access to full-time online education has been wonderful for countless students and families. Military families, for example, can give their children an education with the continuity of a student who remains in the same place throughout childhood. Special needs children can work at their own pace with no fears of distraction in the form of bullying. It has also been a safe haven for kids dealing with heavy issues, such as being transgender or having physical disabilities. Additionally, aspiring actors and traveling athletes are more easily able to pursue their passions. 

Even for "normal" children, online schools are appealing. Particularly in small towns or rural school districts where course offerings are limited, students are still able to take Chinese or Computer Science. 

Now that a handful of states require at least one online course, high school students are finding themselves with more schedule flexibility and independence than previous generations. One student in Florida, for example, opts in to take a handful of online courses each semester because it allows him to work a part-time job. He can study whenever he wants, and knows that teachers are available to answer questions between 8am and 8pm.

But students might also have less noble reasons for stacking their schedules with online classes: "easy credits." 

And therein lies the problem with online school: 

"It's notoriously difficult to tell if they are delivering students a decent education. It's hard enough to track the performance of normal schools; online classes are dispersed, with a large variety of types of students; some crossing both district and state lines, scrambling the traditional way the education system holds schools accountable." 

It is not that online education is inferior to classroom education; the issue is that it is hard to know how successful something is when it is still so new. How can we measure something with so little history? 

The first virtual school appeared in 1996, before email addresses were a necessity, thanks to a pioneering grant issued by the federal government. In the 1997-98 school year, the Virtual High School offered about two dozen online courses to 500 students across 27 schools and 10 states. Since then, enrollment has grown about 10 percent each year. 

Despite the federal government's involvement with snowballing online education, they have had minimal involvement since. The difficulty in tracking and overseeing online schools is in part because this country is in desperate need of a new education bill. The last one to pass was No Child Left Behind, which took effect in 2002, back when online education was barely on the radar.

We can finally expect to see a new education bill on the table next year. The bill, known as the Child Achieves Act, would provide money dedicated to online classes and would contribute to securing mobile devices for students. 

In these early stages it is hard to tell what we are doing right or wrong with virtual schooling. In spite of the murky waters, online education carries enormous potential. With a new education bill on the horizon and an increasing number of people paying attention, we will be able to hone in on what is and is not working, and see what online education can truly do for students. 

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT ONLINE LEARNING AT METHOD SCHOOLS

Method Schools Team
Method Schools Team
We're a diverse bunch spread throughout all of Southern California! Method teachers and employees embrace change and challenge in an effort to build and deliver curriculum and instruction that actually works for students. We are here to help you succeed!
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