Many online elementary and high schools in Colorado are failing to provide their students with a proper education, but tax payers are still spending $100 million on these programs this year. These tax dollars are also going towards paying for students who are no longer attending the schools.
This situation is bad for both the students who attend online schools and those who attend traditional schools. The online students are falling farther and farther behind their peers, while the traditional students are facing larger class sizes as online students transfer to traditional schools in order to find a higher quality of education. The traditional schools are also not receiving state funding to cover the expenses created by the influx of the online students because the virtual schools are keeping the state funding after the students leave.
Laura Johnson is a high school senior who experienced this situation first-hand. Johnson left her small public high school in order to take classes through GOAL Academy, one of the largest online schools in Colorado. She returned to Florence High School in January because she was disillusioned with the online school. However, the state funding stayed with GOAL Academy, making it impossible for the school district to hire enough teachers to adequately teach all of the students in the district.
“We’re bleeding money to a program that doesn’t work,” said State Senator President Brandon Shaffer. “We spend over $100 million a year on online schools now – in an environment where we’re cutting $200 to $270 million year from brick-and-mortar schools.”
So why do many students choose to attend online schools? Officials with online programs say there are various factors that contribute to this trend, including the fact that many at-risk students see online schools as their last resort and that many parents do not monitor their students’ use of the online schools. However, according to an analysis by I-News/EdNews, many of the students who attend online schools are not at-risk students nor are they struggling academically. It seems that these students just do not thrive in an online learning environment and decide to return to a traditional school in order to do better.
Randy DeHoff, GOAL Academy’s director of strategic planning, thinks that students do not have a clear idea of what an online school is like before they sign up for one.
“One of the things the online schools need to do a better job of in that recruitment and enrollment phase is trying to give a student a real clear idea of what an online program’s about [and] what their responsibilities are,” DeHoff said.
For students like Johnson, this really does seem to be the case.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for someone to stare at a computer screen for five hours straight,” she said of the online classes. “I think the most difficult part about it was trying to keep yourself on it.”
I have to agree with Johnson. Keeping myself motivated to study for five hours straight while staring at a computer screen seems like a pretty tall order. It makes sense to me that many students who try this option would eventually want to return to traditional schools. However, the fact remains that when these students return to traditional schools, the state funding does not return with them. That seems to be the biggest problem to me.
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