Most elementary and middle level students spend a significant amount of time IN line during their school day: recess, gym, assembly, lunchroom, bus, to mention but a few. However, an increasing number of younger children are now ONline during their school day. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Half a million American children take classes online, with a significant group getting all their schooling from virtual public schools.”
Two types of online schools exist. At least eight states have virtual schools that they support financially. These courses supplement those offered in local schools. Such schools do not offer diplomas and appeal to middle and high school students. In fact, some districts view the online courses as a solution to overcrowded schools. However, the second model, an online virtual academy, currently includes at least 185 schools in seventeen states. These publicly financed schools include elementary level students who can download assignments and interact with certified teachers. Students enrolled in such schools are not homeschoolers, but public school students, as are taxpayer-financed and must adhere to federal testing standards such as No Child Left Behind.
The proliferation of these internet classrooms is causing quite a stir in communities because some of them are charter schools that draw resources from public funding. Teachers’ unions, like those in Wisconsin, oppose this new educational model because they feel that such schools need regulation and oversight. In fact, in 2001 the state of Pennsylvania brought the issue to court, maintaining that online schools amounted to home schooling at taxpayer expense. They lost. “Last year, the state auditor found that several online charters had received reimbursements from students’ home districts that surpassed actual education costs by more than $1 million.”
Some online schools contract with private educational institutions like K12, thus reducing available funds for public schools. Moreover, the K12 curriculum allows children to move through lessons at their own pace, further customizing education.
In a consumer-driven economy, people vote with their wallets. Educators need to heed the message. Federal testing continues to indicate that students are not achieving the goals. Teachers and administrators need to become more knowledgeable about technology and innovative teaching techniques that will help American students to compete in a global economy. Dissatisfied parents will continue to encounter ways to supplement or replace a system that they consider archaic or broken. They now have another alternative to public education that may be less costly and more convenient than “brick and mortar” private and parochial schools.