Surely, you know college students are taking courses as well as earning degrees online. But, there has also been a proliferation of online learning in the K12 arena. Home schooled children often turn to online education sites accredited by public schools to augment and complete their home-schooling. Some high school students take courses online to complete their high school degree requirements.
What impact is the online K12 learning environment having? For one, financial questions have been raised because public school financing covers the per pupil expenditure just as if the student were educated on site at a local school. Thus, if the per pupil expenditure of a student is $6,000, that amount is sent by the district to the private company running the virtual school if the student is enrolled full-time. This amount might not sound like much, but when the expense for all students within a district or state taking advantage of online learning is factored, the price tag is considerable.
The New York Times ran an article this week reporting some statistics. Apparently, a half a million children in the US take courses online. In states like Florida and Illinois, state mandates have driven initiatives in support of online learning and financing this form of learning. In these states, online learning supplements what is occurring in the regular classroom and diplomas cannot be earned online. Many of the courses offered online are aimed at middle school students. The largest public online school is the Florida Virtual School, which enrolls 50,000, according to The Times. In Michigan, educators are interested in the concept to reduce classroom crowding, sending students home to take online classes. The Wisconsin Virtual Academy is a full-fledged charter school. The Times reports that about 185 such charter schools exist nationwide, and 90,000 students attend. As such, these schools are publicly financed. In cases where students were previously home-schooled, enrollment in a virtual school now qualifies them for the district or state to pick up the tab. These virtual schools meet federal testing mandates, and thus qualify to be financed through tax dollars.
In Pennsylvania a suit was filed against financing online schools through taxpayer dollars, on the claim that money was diverted from the regular public schools. The district bringing the suit, however, lost the case.
For many, virtual schools have advantages, especially for those who live in remote locations or have health issues that make daily attendance at public schools difficult. In Kansas, a state auditor, noted that virtual education make sense because students do not have to be physically present in the classroom. Barbara Hinton, the auditor, stated: “Students can go to school at any time of the day and in any place,” which she sees as an advantage. For students living in remote locations, they now have the ability to take such courses as Chinese language. The same is true for students attending public schools in populated areas where select, desirable courses simply are not affordable or practical for the school system to run in-house.
Many of the virtual schools hire licensed, unionized teachers, and meet federal guidelines. Parents like the concept because their children can move through the curriculum at their own pace, and as opposed to regular home schooling, the children are now taught by qualified, licensed teachers. Of note, whereas parents cannot teach their children at taxpayers’ expense, sending students to a licensed virtual school qualifies for the tax coverage. Thus, an influx of interest in online schooling is expected, in part replacing parental efforts to home school their children.
As a public school teacher or potential public school teacher, weigh in on the issue. What are your thoughts on virtual schools and online learning?
Information from this blog was taken from Sam Dillon’s Feb. 1, 2008 article, “Online Schooling Grows, Setting Off a Debate, New York Times, pp. A1 and 22. Photo is from the story and was shot by Darren Hauck and shows Tracie Weldie educating her children at home using curriculum provided from an online school.
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