May 042012

Virtual Schools:  Are virtual schools really an answer?

Virtual Schools:  By Steve Perry, special to HLN, updated 7:52 AM EDT, Fri April 27, 2012

Virtual Schools: NEED TO KNOW

  • HLN education contributor Steve Perry outlines the pros and cons of online learning
  • He says virtual schools have revolutionized education
  • Despite its downsides, Perry says we’ll see more virtual schools in the near future

Editor’s note: Steve Perry is HLN’s education contributor and the founder and principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. He is also the author of “Man Up!: Nobody is Coming to Save Us,” which offers solutions to problems in the black community.

Online learning is the most important educational advance in our lifetime. We’ve come to see school as a place as opposed to a process. Online learning reminds us that learning is not determined by where, but by how kids are taught. Schooling is not place, it’s a process. Brick and mortar schools like mine are as cutting edge as rotary phones.

When we think of online learning, we should understand that it ranges from a Wikipedia search to formal courses. The battle line over online learning is in K-12.  Here is where generations of educational rules are being ripped to shreds by parents, children, reformers and social entrepreneurs. They’ve all seen the limits of the 19th century schools our children are in today.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning, iNACOL, reports that 1,816,400 kids were enrolled “in distance-education courses in K-12 school districts in 2009–2010, almost all of which were online courses. 74% of these enrollments were in high schools.” iNACOL also reports that 40 states have virtual schools or state-led initiatives, while 30 have full-time online schools. Some sources suggest that within the next five years, 10 million students could have some part of their schooling online. There is no going back now; online learning has revolutionized education and it is in its infancy.

Opponents of online education claim that students can’t develop meaningful relationships through a computer. Like, yeah, if this were like 1985. Our kids are not diddling around on Atari 2600s. Even our phones are beefy technology brutes that support an ease of relationship development between teacher and student. Anyway, last time I checked nobody is developing a relationship with Professor What’s His Name during a 400-student Bio 101 lecture.

The upsides to online learning are plentiful:

  • Students can and do receive individualized learning through self-paced smart programs that know when to move on or take the student back.
  • Parents can participate their children’s learning in real time with their kids. No more waiting for an email from your kid’s overwhelmed English teacher.
  • Economic isolationism becomes a thing of the past. Today, if you don’t win the lottery or live in an affluent town, your academic prospects can be bleak. Online learning invites the best minds into the most barren academic environments.
  • Traditional schools are no longer limited by the teachers we can attract. I can offer Hebrew for one student, whereas in the old days, if I couldn’t find a Hebrew teacher and 100 or more kids interested in Hebrew, we couldn’t offer it.

There are some real issues with online learning as well: There is no real oversight with these schools. Predatory schools can and do take advantage of people looking to earn an education.

The biggest issue is quality. As an employer, I struggle to accept the quality of an online degree. The schools are too new and it feels like as long as you can pay you can get an A.

But these challenges pale in comparison to the opportunities online schools offer.


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