More trouble for online schools

While there are many good ideas in education reform, the education system in the US is experiencing growing pains as it attempts to enter and keep up with the digital world. Maine is the latest state to say no to subcontracting its online schooling with K12. I just discovered an article from earlier this month, Maine denied applications from both K12 and Connections Academy to run public school online programs in that state.

In regards to K12’s application, Amy Carlisle, president of the local board for the proposed Maine Virtual Academy had this to say about her board:

“She also vigorously denied that her board lacked independence from K12 Inc., the Herndon, Va., based online education company that would manage the school, hire and fire its staff and headmaster, and provide curricular materials and assessment data.”

Now if K12 is in charge of major decisions regarding the school including all staffing decisions (including hiring and firing), school management, provides curriculum, and assessment (testing) data, that to me says K12 is pretty much in charge of the school instead of the board.  As a result,

“The charter commission denied the school’s application in a unanimous vote Tuesday, saying that its review team “has no confidence that the governing board of the Maine Virtual Academy can functionally manage the daily education and fiscal responsibilities without staff.”

So what if the board is independent if they are not the ones who actually are managing the school program? They are contracting the work out to K12. This is the second year the board’s application has been denied. Last year was for similar oversight concerns regarding K12. Maine created a law authorizing online public education in 2011.

Good for Maine for not handing over control over the state’s education to big business, especially since their track record is proving less than desirable outcomes for students in other states. However, students should have education options. We just need to find a good balance that takes into account service, cost, and what’s going to have the best outcome for students.

I consider K12 education’s version of the agriculture and food giant Monsanto. Starting small and inconspicuously, they now control a vast majority of all phases of farming and food production in the US and Canada with products ranging  everything from seeds (including many GMO varieties), herbicides like Roundup, pesticides, to mills, and factories. Yes, they do offer useful products, but taken as a whole, they have too much control over a vital industry.

Online school problems

I read today some things that add to my concerns about online public schools. These free programs are available in most states. They allow students access to public school education only the work is done online instead of in a classroom. In theory the idea is good. However, now that they have been around for a few years, the outcomes are proving less than desirable.

Colorado, in particular is experiencing negative results with their online school program. There are 2 news stories in recent news: The Colorado Charter School Institute rejected K12’s application and Colorado Virtual Academy Answers Tough Questions. Colorado has been contracting with K12 (a company that provides services for online schooling) for twelve years. This is one of the oldest online public school programs in the U.S.

According to the articles, the Colorado program currently has a graduation rate of only 22%. They also have a high student turnover, meaning families are signing up then quitting the program in the same year. High school turnover was 50%. They applied to be a charter school, which would mean they won’t need to be sponsored by a school district. However, that application was rejected. The district they are with is currently debating not to go ahead with their renewal. K12 faces closure in Colorado this summer if it is is unable to find a sponsoring district.

I have never used an online school, but have homeschooled my children for 7 years now. The problems I think stem from the theory of being able to learn better online at home isn’t matching up with reality. In theory, the student would work when they are supposed to. They would check in online and meet their deadlines. There would be fewer distractions from other students because they are at home and away from the drama, bullies, and their friends. In theory the parents would be checking up to ensure the students are keeping up.

With traditional homeschooling, the parents are active participants in their child’s education. In a regular school, teachers are actively involved with the students even if the parent’s aren’t. Both equate to high levels of adult supervision. However, with online schooling, the level of direct adult supervision is greatly diminished. It is up to the students to ensure they get their work done. That is a huge responsibility, especially for younger students and students who may not be the most responsible to begin with. (I know I sure wasn’t.) There are no adults to remind you about work in person and watch to see that you are actually working on school when you are supposed to be.

Also, because it is online and there is less direct adult supervision, the risk and temptation of cheating is higher. I’ve seen several online sites from students asking for answers. Not just help understanding one or two problems, but flat out cheating. They are typing in their homework, quiz, or test questions then expecting others to provide the answers. One even got mad when someone said they would not help her cheat. She said this is how she learns rather than actually doing the work! Part of a good education is learning to find answers for yourself, not expecting others to give them to you.

I hear about online students who have trouble concentrating because they are distracted by the online environment. They play on computer games or social media instead of school. A teacher is available to help with students’ questions, but not sure how that works. I doubt they get answers as fast as with a regular teacher or parent being in the same room. This causes deadlines to be missed and students aren’t properly prepared for exams. If students procrastinate so they aren’t making steady progress throughout the semester, they can end up with a huge amount of work still undone at the end of the year. Then they stress and rush to try to get it done. That all results in lower grades. The program gets blamed and families leave or students just give up and quit.

What can be done to alleviate these problems? I’m not sure, but I think parents somehow need to be more responsible for insuring their children do the work. They shouldn’t just assume because their child is signed up for online classes that they are actually doing school and making progress.