A colleague sent me this last week. While it was written about Colorado, I think it could (and maybe should) be written by every editorial board in the United States!
The creative power of the Internet has changed a lot of things.
However, it’s not clear how much that power has altered the fundamentals of providing children with a first-class education. Beginning in the late 1990s, some educators began to see the Internet as a new way to teach kids. It could allow students to learn at their own pace and offer a second chance for students who struggled in traditional classroom settings.
A number of charter schools sprung up around the state. Students left their traditional schools and signed up for online learning. So many students sought out this new approach that traditional school districts began offering their own online schools. Greeley-Evans School District 6, for example, launched Engage Online Academy in 2011. Charter schools Hope Online Academy and GOAL Academy also serve students in Weld County.
Online schools — in districts across the state — have attracted more than 16,000 students. That all sounds great. But there is a problem.
The schools don’t appear to be working.
» Fewer than 50 percent of high school students at Hope and Goal graduate within seven years.
» Nearly 40 percent of Colorado’s online schools either closed last year, or received one of the state’s two lowest accreditation ratings.
» Only 34 percent of the online schools are classified as “performance” schools, the state’s highest accreditation rating. About 70 percent of non-online schools received that accreditation rating this year.
» Many online schools have incredibly poor teacher student-teacher ratios. For example, of the state’s Top 25 highest student-to-teacher ratios, 20 belong to online schools.
Worse still, the online schools actually make it more difficult for traditional schools to deliver on their mandate to prepare kids for the 21st century. Online schools pull more than $100 million per year away from their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
We understand that many online schools face challenging demographics that make teaching more difficult. But so do traditional schools. While these challenges help explain some failings, they don’t excuse them. And it’s worth noting that many brick-and-mortar schools in District 6 perform well, despite the demographic challenges they face.
Newspapers know better than most the challenges that come with adapting a legacy business model to the opportunities of the Internet age. And, it’s fair to say that online education has a role to play in the future.
But the current model for Internet-based schools in K-12 education doesn’t seem to work. What that tells us is that the fundamentals remain crucial. Teachers matter. Time in a classroom matters. And resources matter. So far, the evidence suggests many online schools in Colorado have failed to develop a model that delivers on these fundamentals.
We’re not ready to give up on online education. But we think it bears watching. If these struggling schools can’t show real improvement quickly, it may be time to think again about what we expect from technology.
— The Tribune Editorial Board