It’s that time again. School administrators across the nation are starting to plan for next year. Staffing, enrollment numbers, and course offerings are all being considered. Stick with the status quo or step out of those comfort zones? And more often than not, as all of the puzzle pieces come together, one overwhelming need keeps coming up: online courses.
During the 2013-2014 school year, more than 316,000 students attended online schools, according to Keeping Pace with K–12 Digital Learning (PDF, 5.4MB). In fact, 30 states offer fully-online statewide schools. That’s some pretty stiff competition.
Good News for School Districts
First, these fully-online statewide schools do not have high success rates. It doesn’t take much research to find out that their turnover is high and their passage rate is low. For example, in Ohio, the graduation rate for students who attend fully-online state schools was well below 50 percent, according to a 2012 study from the Center for Public Education (PDF, 843KB).
The study continued: “Following a ten-month long investigation, a Colorado news organization reported that the state’s virtual charter schools experience high student turnover, and produce significantly higher dropout rates and lower test scores than brick-and-mortar schools.” During a five year span, “66 percent of students who enrolled in Florida Virtual School courses withdrew in the first month.”
Google it for yourself. Look at your state. You’ll likely find that many students who leave to attend fully-online state schools return to their home school districts, often deficient in credits and short on time to graduate.
Second, most of your students don’t want to leave your district — and their parents really don’t want to. They often leave because they feel that they have no other choice.
Making It Easy for Students to Stay
Offer online courses within your own district. Take the leap and make it happen. It doesn’t matter if you purchase content or build your own courses. Start with one course or five. Be a pioneer in your district, your city, or even your state.
There are many providers available for schools, academies, individuals, or districts. American High School in Plantation, Florida offers a terrific online program that is very affordable and interactive. Whoever you decide to work with, make sure you partner with a school that will be responsive to your needs and make sure they are fully accredited.
When looking at providers, develop a system to rate each one based on your district’s needs. Contact each vendor to request two guest accounts, one as a student and one as a teacher. Then develop a team (including teachers, students, and administrators) to review each of the providers. Give yourself more than one day to do it. Rush through this process and you’ll regret it later.
Here are seven questions to get you started as you review courses:
- How engaging is the presentation of content? The assessments? Do the courses provide choices and challenges for students? Is it interactive?
- How many lessons, assignments, or units are there within each course? Do they seem balanced from unit to unit and course to course?
- How easy is the program for students to navigate? For teachers?
- How are the submissions monitored? Who grades the student work? Is “success” based on seat time or authentic learning?
- Is the course content modifiable in any way? How does it compare to what is taught in your classrooms?
- Are the courses designed as credit recovery, enrichment, or both? For example, can one course be offered for enrichment or credit recovery, or are there two versions of the same course, depending on the type of student?
- The most important question to ask when reviewing content: Would you want to take this course?
Don’t waste any more time. Online Learning is at the forefront of education and now is the time to be a part of it. You will not regret it!