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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Virtual Classrooms: Expanding Options Or Shortcutting Education?

Jesse Perez transmits online a graduation ceremony for the virtual Kaplan College Preparatory School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP)

Jesse Perez transmits online a graduation ceremony for the virtual Kaplan College Preparatory School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP)

About 200,000 K-12 students in the U.S. attend school every day from the comfort of their homes, while traveling  or maybe from the sporting complexes where they train as athletes.  That’s possible because of virtual schools, where everything students are taught happens online.

Public school districts and charter schools in many states now operate virtual academies. And they say students enroll for any number of social, health and professional reasons. But are the students missing out on important social aspects of the learning process? We speak with Isaiah Greene, a student enrolled in Ohio Virtual Academy, and Ron Packard, founder of K12, a company that produces online education curricula.

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  • Private Sector Frog

    I’m sure it is not a replacement for traditional schools…but I would have LOVED to have http://www.khanacademy.org/ when I was in school as a supplement to my learning!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Jordan/1079392835 Chris Jordan

    The guest, being the CEO of K12, was obviously biased in his assessment of the programs efficacy. Are there any objective studies about this?

    • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

      Yes, there are. Did you not learn to use a search engine in your school? Or was it like my children’s school, where there weren’t enough computers?

  • Homeschooling Mom in MA

    Virtual schooling, homeschooling, etc., are alternatives to conventional schooling that are completely valid. People shouldn’t feel sorry for these kids and what they’re missing by not attending regular school. There is no one-size-fits-all way to school all children/people, and these alternatives allows kids to find a way that works for them. Please don’t worry about how these kids get socialization. They’re out and about in the community, with other alternatively-schooled kids and adults, and they learn to socialize with all ages of folks. Instead, maybe you should feel sorry for school kids who can’t go outside and run around on the first beautiful sunny spring day, fill their lungs with fresh air, then come inside to do their work when they’re ready. The world is full of different kinds learners; why shouldn’t there be different ways of learning?

    • Hostetler_tammy

      amen to that,my son is in home schooling to and is doing a whole lot better in it then regular school,he was an a,b,c student .B ut when the school doesn’t fill it’s job as a school to do theres,i’ll take home schooling anyday. hostetler_tammy@yahoo.com

    • Ckeirstead

      What virtual program are you using? How old is your child? We are looking at virtual options for our 10 yr old.

  • Rachael

    Really interesting segment — especially exciting how this young man who was a C-D student seems to have done better now that he’s able to work at his own pace and, perhaps, with some stress. Perhaps there are studies on what works/what doesn’t in terms of virtual school and/or what kinds of students are more suited to this approach. He sounds like a very disciplined young person. Thanks, Robin!

  • Anonymous

    Teaching does not happen on a machine. Education is a human process, requiring human interaction. There’s a magic that takes place in a classroom with enough, but not too many, students and a teacher that cannot be replicated on a computer alone.

    Greg Camp
    Springdale, AR

    • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

      No, it doesn’t. It happens with teachers, someone with the help of a screen. Whether that screen is a monitor, a chalkboard, or a projector screen is irrelevant.

    • guest

      I am considering teaching in K12. I have taught in a brick and mortar school, and do think it is for every student. Also,  I can not (no teacher) can ensure that the student’s are not cheating.
      I am also starting to question why it is so terrible for schools to make a profit.
      I am in Ohio, and schools are broke.  Schools are failing, because the budget system is a disaster.  Something needs to be much differently, and it is time to really think outside the box  in funding our schools.
      I, myself, have taken many online college courses. They were challenging and I had relationships with my teachers and classmates. It is far more likely our future generations will have occupations working from home, so it is not entirely inappropriate for some students to take classes online.

  • Anonymous

    You know that a student is doing the work? No, this gadget knows that someone is doing it, but without a student showing up in my classroom, I don’t know what’s really going on.

    • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

      You know that a student is doing the work? Yes, because I’m right there with them, helping them out. As for your classroom, how well do you really know how you’re thirty students are doing? Also, wouldn’t you be relieved if your special needs students were moved out of your classroom, into a school where they could take advantage of the one-on-one help that you’re unable to provide?

  • Anonymous

    Education is not an economic transaction. Students aren’t customers, and teachers aren’t salespeople. Packard’s statements reveal how he sees schools as a chance to make money, not preserve and improve the society.

    • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

      But families are customers, and paying ones at that.

      Three years ago, the only affordable provider was the public school on the block. This monopoly situation allowed them to get away with a ton of BS, including and especially short-changing special needs students.

      Now, with school choice, if my local brick-and-mortar doesn’t do a good job, I can take them to another school and get what the previous school failed to deliver. In addition, brick-and-mortar classrooms simply aren’t for everyone. My son has special needs and his time in a classroom was disastrous, both for himself and his twenty-three classmates. Some of his classmates were equally left behind, especially those with chronic illnesses.

      Now he’s thriving – both socially and educationally – in a virtual school along with other special needs, advanced, and chronically ill children. A friend of mine has a son with leukemia, and attending a daily class with twenty-three sneezing children simply wasn’t an option. Another has recurring brain tumors and has been in and out of the hospital for over four years. No matter how good the classroom is, the students can’t learn if they’re unable to attend (and these classrooms simply aren’t that good).

      There’s a reason that monopolies are illegal in this country, and brick-and-mortar schools are the perfect example of why.

  • Rogerhanley01

    @Chris Jordan – Yes, there are studies that show that virtual school students perform as well, or better than, their traditional school counterparts. Check our http://www.inacol.org.

    @gregcamp – Packard’s comments in no way show that he sees this as only a chance to make money. If you can, quote whatever comment you are referring to that makes you think that. I suspect that you just made that perception up to support your opposition.

    What other sector in the US reviles competition that drives quality? Ford is now making a better vehicle than they did years ago, BECAUSE of competition with Toyota. Traditional schools will have to become better at what they do if they want to compete with alternatives, such as virtual schools.

    I have personally started and operated a virtual school and bore witness to the incredible difference the program made to reluctant or non-consumers of public education.

    As Packard said, the money that goes to charter schools of virtual schools belongs to the parents who choose to send their children to these alternative programs. If there is a negative impact to public education, let public education improve their service so that parents don’t seek out an alternative. My money should follow MY student to the program that is going to work best for her.

  • Rogerhanley01

    @Chris Jordan – Yes, there are studies that show that virtual school students perform as well, or better than, their traditional school counterparts. Check out http://www.inacol.org.

    @gregcamp – Packard’s comments in no way show that he sees this as only a chance to make money. If you can, quote whatever comment you are referring to that makes you think that. I suspect that you just made that perception up to support your opposition.

    What other sector in the US reviles competition that drives quality? Ford is now making a better vehicle than they did years ago, BECAUSE of competition with Toyota. Traditional schools will have to become better at what they do if they want to compete with alternatives, such as virtual schools.

    I have personally started and operated a virtual school and bore witness to the incredible difference the program made to reluctant or non-consumers of public education. Graduates consistently talked about how, in the past, they never thought they would be able to graduate high school (because of children, the need for a job, or family responsibilities, among other reasons), and how appreciative they were of the opportunity afforded them.

    As Packard said, the money that goes to charter schools or virtual schools belongs to the parents who choose to send their children to these alternative programs. If there is a negative impact to public education, let public education improve their service so that parents don’t seek out an alternative. My money should follow MY student to the program that is going to work best for her.

  • Debbie

    I homeschool my son and it is BETTER in every way. He is no longer bullied and can focus on learning – which by the way is now one on one in a comfortable environment. I have two other children in public schools – one an 8th grader who likes the social aspect of school and the other a 3rd grader who I choose to keep in school for the social skills. My child is not left at a computer like some may think, it is very interactive with great materials. Try it before you judge it.

  • Hollyjbaker

    Just heard this conversation on the radio. While my personal experience with a virtual education was positive, I would not recommend it for most students unless their programs were administered very differently than mine was. I went to typical public schools from Kindergarten through Sophomore year of high school. I was always active in various student organizations, took advanced and AP courses, was an honor roll student every year, and had many friends. By the end of my Sophomore year however, I was just completely burned out on school, possibly from pushing myself so hard, boredom, or the fact that I thought I had already learned all that I needed to in all my previous years of schooling. Whatever the cause, I was fairly miserable and had let some of my grades drop significantly going into my Junior year. I began looking for alternatives to my traditional school, and found that my school offered an exclusively online education program, mostly for students at risk of dropping or failing out of school. I was able to get into it early enough in the year before it had filled up, though. I had two years of high school curriculum to get through, and was able to finish it all in just one year of going for three or four hours four days a week. A few teachers were present in our computer labs while we worked, but did very little more than take attendance. Our programs did not require or even provide for any sort of interpersonal communication with other students or teachers. Assignments were exclusively made up of short multiple choice quizzes at the end of each unit of a course. When prompted with any writing assignment or project, we informed our teachers and they cleared it for us and allowed us to just move on. The only such assignment I ever had was a simple senior project consisting of two fairly short essays and a poem. I was able to fly through all of my courses, and hold a full time job. I got my diploma in May with the class one year ahead of my previous class. I also never took the ACT or SAT, as I did not see myself going to college at this point. After experiencing “the real world” for a year and a half on a minimum wage job however, I decided that I wanted to get a college degree afterall.I did not study at all, but took the ACT and scored well above my expected score. I applied to the University of Oklahoma, and got accepted and even given an academic scholarship. Now in my Sophomore year of college, I am enjoying school, maintaining a good GPA, and am excited about my post-graduation plans. I am very thankful that I was able to graduate early through participating in an online education program, and believe that I would not have ended up continuing my education beyond high school if I had been forced to suffer through two more years of traditional schooling. While everything has worked out very well for me, I recognize that my online education was set up and administered in such a way as making it pointless and a “blow off”, really. I understand that this would be the easiest way to get at-risk students to graduate, but the online curriculum certainly imparted less knowledge than that of traditional classroom instruction and participation. My belief is that for the average student, traditional education is still best. My eleven years of it was what set me up for success in college, while the online program basically just allowed me to skip my last two years of high school and would have allowed me to move on to college faster, had I not taken time off. There are of course several different types of online education programs and several different types of students and personal situations; just wanted to share how it worked out for me.

  • IBart111

    My son (10YO) is currently enrolled in CyberSchool in a fifth grade level. It is his first year, and we are really pleased. We are able to work as fast or as slow as we want, which has enabled us to adapt our family life and schedule the way we want. I sometimes wonder if he is not missing on social contacts, but maybe that is some kind of projection of our adult fears because when I ask him how he feels about it, he loves it, and does not want to go back to a brick and mortar school. He does not feel like he is loosing on anything. He never had very positive relationships in school, being more of an artistic and intellectual kid than a sporty kid. Boys who are not interested in sports have often a hard time in elementary school. Later, in high school, being exposed to more kids, they can choose to hang out with the kids that share the same interests. He is a very smart kid and school did not challenge and stimulate him the way he needs to be. He was also bored to be forced to learn at the pace that the slower kids were going. The gifted program in the brick and mortar was not very challenging either. Cyber school has given him organization skills that he did not have before he started. Having a parent with him constantly, gives him instant feedback on how he is doing, and if he makes mistakes, they are explained to him immediately. When a teacher gives back a corrected assignment 1 week later, do you really think that the kids really care about it … no, because they have already moved on to other things. He is taking French and has advanced technology classes which he never had at the local public school. We are very happy with the quality of the education he is receiving at this school.

  • Pkollas

    Re the story on 100% online school, I must dissent. Your story, while interesting, gave only the hype (and one satisfied student’s views) but didn’t really explain the drawbacks–and they exist. I have taught various courses over the years (college and military), and I witnessed the unwanted conversion of one of my favorite courses from classroom to computer. It was not pretty. People told me they could not understand the content once it went online, even after 4-6 hours of struggling, whereas my in-person teaching covered the refresher content in 2 hours, including skills practice and testing. And in the classroom, I could immediately tell who was “getting it” and who was not, then adjust as necessary.
    The two biggest problems I see so far in computerized teaching are (1) lack of ability to do hands-on practice, such as in a medical course, and (2) lack of captivating presentation on the computer screen. A few courses have been fairly well done, but most are a drudge to get through. I have not seen the ones produced by “K12″ (whose mouthpiece you interviewed on air), so I cannot fairly comment on their specific courses, but I’ve seen other professionally produced computerized classes and would have to vote thumbs down on most.
    You did ask about classroom interaction and the Socratic Method–good on you–but I thought the response from your interviewee was glossed over. Computers cannot, so far anyway, provide the really valuable Socratic Method of teaching / critiquing that a human facilitator (instructor who knows how to use the method) can.
    Finally, although again the hype glossed over this, learning true social interaction–no, I’m not talking Facebook here–cannot come from a computer screen. I would probably have been one of those eager to go to an online school, had it been offered when I was growing up–I was very awkward and shy–but I would have just made my shyness worse by doing so. Kids are not in a position to understand all these subtleties (and I sometimes wonder about their “too busy” parents, as well), so they will make some bad decisions the consequences of which they won’t learn for years to come.

    • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

      Adult virtual courses and children’s courses are very different. The problems that you outlined in your comment are amply taken care of in virtual schools.

      First, children are not shown a screen and told to e-mail an adult when they need help. Children are tutored, along with that screen, by their parents. They have an adult with them for all of their lessons, which is more one-on-one time than traditional students get, not less. If you compare this to a traditional classroom – where the screen is a chalkboard or maybe a projector screen – it’s definitely an improvement.

      Next, in a traditional classroom, the child who is ‘not getting it’ is left behind or medicated with no hope of improvement, especially if the child has special needs. With virtual schooling, the parents and teachers work together to make sure that the child understands each lesson, without having to worry about the learning style of twenty or so other classmates.

      In addition, most schools don’t have ‘hands-in’ materials. They have textbooks and are told to simply accept the outcomes explained in the books, whereas my child’s virtual provider sent math and science materials so we could ‘prove’ each concept ourselves, which was exactly what my son needed. :)

      As for your bit about classroom methods – you’re giving way too much credit to the average K-12 classroom. They’re simply way too full and not that good. Even the best teachers are going to struggle to teach thirty seven-year-old and we’re not exactly inspiring the best people to teach, now are we?

      Last, a shy child in today’s school is simply a victim for bullying, with no hope of learning how to handle those situations, because the teachers are too busy herding the other twenty-something students to be able to help. My son, however, has gone from being the disruptor in the classroom to being the star pupil in his kung-fu class, and not even close to a problem in his tumbling and ballet classes. If you believe that public schools can match the positive socialization that we have time for now that we’ve ditched the classroom model, then I have a bridge to sell you.

      On Craigslist, of course. :)

  • Nholmes

    I hope that by the time I have children there are still PUBLIC places (i.e. not my house, not the mall) where I can send my kids to interact/play with others and learn in a social environment. I don’t see how so-called “virtual” forms of education couldn’t be integrated into such an environment. I’m more worried about the non-public, market-based solutions CEO Ron Packard proposes and how they dovetail with the increasing privatization of our education system.

    • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

      Sure, there will be. Virtual students don’t disdain group classes, we just don’t see it as a ‘one size fits all’ solution to education.

      My son’s time in a classroom was disastrous, both for himself and his classmates. Now he has tumbling on Monday and Wednesday, kung-fu on Tuesday and Thursday, ballet on Wednesday morning, book club at the library on Thursday afternoon, and so on. If I wanted, I could add soccer or Boy Scouts or any number of positive group socialization experiences to his week, without detracting from his education or therapy, and without keeping his classmates behind.

      As for the market, public schools have had a monopoly on education for fifty years, and look how’s that turned out. Do you seriously have a problem giving the market a chance to provide a quality education?

  • Harveyvelasco


    I have been a homeschooler for 13 years. Two of my three children are attending a Virtual high school. I LOVE having this option. K12 provide a long list of feild trips, outings and meet ups. The educational side is great also, they provide AP and honor courses. It was like they heard my wish for high school. I know this is not for everyone. But if you have the time and can handle being with your kids 24/7 LOL! This program works. I see that my kids learn and retain knowledge. Most homeschool supplement the kids with outside activities. We have paino at a music school (wed), ballet (fri), hip hop(thur), fenceing (sat & sun) at the college. When it is time to learn that is what they do, when it is time to hang out and mingle that is what we do. My kids know when it is time to learn and when it is time to play. I do not feel sorry for homeschool kid nor do I feel sorry for public school kids. One size never fits all. Some kids do better and really thrive in public school while others thrive and do better as homeschoolers.

  • Joanne

    Why would anyone need the social experience of attending a high school? So many kids have such horrendous stories to tell of bullying, gossip, being ostracized, being physically or sexually assaulted. My child is well past the age of high school, and it is only now that I am learning of the nasty and bitchiness of kids at her school to her and to others. And my daughter is smart, and attractive. How many people do we really stay in touch with after high school? We move away, and move on. Some of us have lifelong friends or partners, others didn’t forge those bonds. I say go for the learning style that works best for you.

  • Heather

    We have used k12 for four years now. My oldest is a 3rd grader and my next child is in K. We love it and my children actually spend very little time on the computer especially in the younger grades. I am on the computer a lot because the curriculum is there and I teach off of it. We use a public charter school so are still technically in public school. My 3rd grader just got his state assessments back and he got Exemplary 91% and 95%. He is not gifted. Just an average boy who works hard. Socially there are a lot of activities held around the state for children who use the program to get together and learn and play.

  • Debbie Kenny @ VHS

    There are many different models for how virtual courses works. Some are more computer based with students completing the work on their computers with little teacher involvement. Some involve active online discussons and more opportunities to use the socratic method of questioning and answering than you would find in many classrooms. And some even include live lectures in which students and teachers can see and hear each other on their computers. All have pros and cons. Regular brick and mortar schools aren’t right, or even possible, for many students –and also have pros and cons.

    For most students, though, the best option may be to combine the best of both worls. The Virtual Hgih School Global Consortium (www.govhs.org), where I work, is a non-profit organization that partners with local schools to offer courses such as AP Physics, Criminal Law, Preveterinary Medicine, Advanced Web Design, and a whole range of other Advanced Placement, honors, and elective courses that the schools couldn’t otherwise provide. Students can stay in school while getting the benefits of a flexible schedule, exposure to a global classroom with teachers and classmates from around the world, and the opportunity to learn 21st Century technology skills they can use in college or in the workplace.

  • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

    More like: Traditional Classrooms: Saving Teachers Or Shortcutting Special Needs Children?

    My son has special needs and did not function well in a classroom. This wasn’t just a problem for him; it was a problem for the twenty-three other children in his class, as well. Allowing me to take him out of that classroom has immensely befitted all twenty-four children, and every potential classmate thereafter. End of story.

  • John Dewey

    The bias, the prejudice on here! And from you “enlightened” folks determined to make us stay on your public school sinking ship! The irony! The hypocrisy. Refusing to be confused by the facts, the studies, the evening news and the piles of evidence found in shootings, taunting, bullying—-and study after study will prove you wrong. You don’t care! You would rather we all stay on the Titanic (public schools) than ever admit you’re wrong.

  • IBart111

    One other thing I want to add is that being at home all the time with my son, I am able to have a knowledge of everything he is doing in school. A lot of evening conversations around the table happen about the subjects he is learning at that moment, allowing us to talk with him about it, ask him his point of view, going in depth about it. I did not have that possibility last year when he was in public school, unless I would have bugged the teacher all the time to know what was going on. He also does a lot more research online, getting a lot more information on the subjects he is learning than he would get in a regular brick and mortar school. When he has a six hour day at home, he has a FULL six hour day of work, not waiting for everybody to get their book out, not waiting for the guy who needs an explanation because he “still” does not get it, not being interrupted by any thought that comes in the head of 28 other children and that most of the time has nothing to do with what they’re learning. In his cyberschool, there are no snow days, no teacher inservice day, no waste of time whatsoever. And all the time he saves working at his pace, allows him to do things that he did not have the time to do last year. When asked, that’s what he likes the best about his school, NO WASTE OF TIME !!!!

  • marc

    Robin could have pushed the CEO of K-12 a lot more. The argument that “the money goes with the kid” is ludicrous. If that were true then people who don’t have children, or whose kids have grown could readily argue that they shouldn’t pay taxes for schools at all. I have no doubt that this kind of schooling works for many kids and that is fine, but taking money out of the public schools and giving them to private schools of any kind is wrong. We don’t pay taxes only for what we will get out of it, but for the common good. It is a recipe for selfish individualism. And I can give two obvious examples of where competition has not solved a problem–clean air and health care. Competition is fine but let’s not fool ourselves that it can solve our school problems. K-12 will cherry pick the kids whose parents can pay and leave the rest to the public schools. That’s not competiition that makes our society better. Private schools or charter schools that handpick their students will never be a solution for kids at the bottom of our system. It will just ignore them

    • http://profiles.google.com/epicchartermom Rose M. Welch

      Charter schools aren’t private schools. They’re public, just like brick and mortar schools are, without the legal ability to choose their students. And the money does follow the child, from the brick-and-mortar to the virtual school, which doesn’t charge parents a dime.

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