Friday, February 01, 2008

A new trend in public education: "Online academies" or "virtual education"

The New York Times has a front page story by Sam Dillon, "Online Schooling Grows, Setting Off a Debate," Feb. 1, 2008, here. The story focuses on online publicly funded classes in some states, especially Florida and Wisconsin. There is a map on p A13 showing 18 states where "virtual education" takes place. Pennsylvania and Ohio are on the list; Maryland, VA and DC are not.

There is a lot of controversy over a number of issues, one including the demand of time it places on parents. Some parents, inclined toward home schooling, may actually like this. But the claim is made that parents are teaching "without a license" at public expense. Teachers unions have sometimes objected to this development.

The use of virtual classrooms can help alleviate classroom space shortage and teacher shortages. In many cases, virtual schools do not give diplomas themselves, but can offer courses for credit. Examinations are likely to emphasize multiple choice, like Virginia SOL's (and comparable exams in all states under NCLB) do already.

One prospect is the creation of new kinds of teaching jobs: online instructors, who work only in a virtual classroom, physically away from students. Such jobs would probably emphasize expertise in subject matter more than in connecting to less mature students, and classroom discipline would not be an issue (except with respect to computer misuse). Preparation or licensing courses for such teachers might require fewer clock hours or emphasize academic subject matter excellence more, relative to customary teacher licensure.

Update: Feb. 11

Jay Mathews has a story on p B02 of The Washington Post today, "FINISHING HIGH SCHOOL: Online Courses Aim to Prevent Dropouts," link here.
The article discusses Arlington Mill, an alternative high school on Columbia in Arlington, VA (I have subbed there). Other alternative high schools in the area are Langford (Arlington), and Byrant, Pimmit Hills, and Mountain Lakes (Fairfax). It would seem that, again, the instructor's job would emphasize a more technical skill set. (Sometimes these schools offer adult only high school courses in the evening, too. Sometimes they also offer programs from those from correctional facilities.) The story mentioned the disturbing reality that many times, in lower income or immigrant families, teens drop out of school to take jobs to support other needy blood family members.

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