With constant budget cuts to education, rising classroom sizes and increasing teacher layoffs it seems necessary to address the education crisis in America. Advocates of online learning believe guiding high school students towards internet schooling may be the answer to these problems. Those in opposition argue that online learning is not as effective as classroom learning but used to save money and increase graduation rates. Both sides of the debate are passionate and student experience is evaluated to answer the question; do online high schools make the grade?
The option for online learning is convenient for students who do not want to, or cannot, attend public schools. The coursework is conveniently organized for parents wishing to home school their students and for students not able to attend classes due to a varying spectrum of obstacles. Recently, students physically attending public school have been introduced to the online method. Many school districts, including Memphis City Schools, require their students to take at least one online course.
Supporters confirm that online courses are valuable to schools that can’t fill classrooms for specialized electives and Advanced Placement courses. The online options give students more choices for coursework, especially for gifted students wishing to participate in more rigorous academics. Students needing to make up lost credits, to make graduation requirements, also benefit from online options. These reasons alone may seem to make the case for completing high school online but the quality of the content and alternative motives for the switch to internet learning is the origin of the debate.
Resistance to online learning is rooted in the theory that schools are not advocating the switch for the benefit of students but for the benefit of the budget. Teachers of online classes spend about a quarter of the time with students online as they would face to face in a classroom. With impending budget cuts, school districts may see this as a time and money saving method. There is currently no evidence to prove whether learning online, versus classroom learning, is more effective for high school students.
Those in opposition also question the integrity of online courses. School districts have been accused of using less thorough content to help students pass classes online that they had previously failed in traditional classroom settings. This ups graduation rates, and eases the risk of federal sanctions on schools with increasing failure or dropout rates.
As the trend takes off questions arise and more opinions are voiced. Idaho superintendent of public instruction, Tom Luna, attested the need for online classes to the New York Times by saying “We can educate more students at a higher level with limited resources, and online technology and courses play a big part in that.” Miami teachers’ union president Karen Aronwitz demonstrated her doubt in online learning by explaining “It’s a cheap education, not because it benefits the students.”