The good news in the bad news

iletisim[1]Sorry to have blogged so little lately. I’ve been too busy teaching to talk about teaching: I’m putting an AP Art History class online, and, fun though this class is turning out to be, it’s absorbing a ridiculous number of my waking hours.

Still, this experience has me thinking again about online education, which is why I was intrigued by a recent Education Week report on Florida’s much-touted Virtual High School. In an article headlined “Florida Virtual School Faces Hard Times,” the paper reports,

The Florida Virtual School—the largest state-sponsored online K-12 school in the country—is facing troubled times, a sign of major policy shifts now reshaping the world of online education.

On the heels of new state legislation aimed at containing costs and promoting competition among providers offering individual online courses to students, Florida Virtual School officials expect to see a 20 percent drop in state revenue this school year and announced this month that they have shed one-third of their workforce.

Experts in online education say the cuts reflect a national trend.

“States are moving away from singularly funding a state virtual school,” said Susan D. Patrick, the president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, in Vienna, Va. “They want to have multiple providers for students to choose from.”

She cited as another example the Louisiana education department’s recent decision to replace the Louisiana Virtual School with a broader menu of course options for students.

Opponents of moves to expand online education options in Florida are sounding the usual notes. Legislators are trying to “privatize” education. There will be a “race to the bottom”. This is all about saving money, and not about educating kids.

I would not want to dismiss quality concerns. But I have a lot of sympathy with an analogy that one of the supporters of expanding online education choices makes in this article. Florida is promoting the “itunes” approach, where students can choose among different producers to create a “playlist” that works for them.

I’ve now been teaching online in one way or another for five years, and my own thinking about this educational innovation has evolved. While purely online courses may work for some students, especially the highly-motivated, my own school has concluded that “blended learning” classes that combine online resources (yup, that’s me) with a classroom teacher are more likely to help students stay focused and on track. So far – and admittedly it’s early to say – I would agree.

So yes, let’s let a little experimentation reign. I agree that parents, students, and administrators need to be vigilant about quality. There are a lot of bad online education courses and providers, and there are even more pretty good online education courses that students may still fail to complete. But online education also vastly expands the educational options open to students – especially in smaller districts, or in schools that cannot support, say, an AP Art History class. And if new providers find new models for educating students effectively, well, I say let’s give them a chance.




  1. Howard Beale

    No big mystery here. On-line works for some students and not for others. It’s not a cure-all for education. Some students need a real live human being. Others can learn at the own pace with on-line.

    • Mary McConnell

      I agree, which is one reason why I’m skeptical of moves to require all students to take an online course.

      But as you know, I don’t buy the one size fits all theory of education anyway.

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