There Will Be More

There will be more of this. From a Washington Post column by David Von Drehle:

Across the United States, online education is booming. Sixth-through-12th-graders enrolled in Florida’s largest full-time virtual high school completed more than 44,000 semesters of classwork last year. In Kansas, virtual school enrollment grew 100-fold between 1999 and 2014, from about 60 students to more than 6,000.

Perhaps inevitably, controversy has followed the growth. Some educators worry that online schools are inherently inferior to traditional classrooms with their flesh-and-blood teachers and peer-group teamwork. I agree that the trend requires close monitoring; at this point, quality research is still sparse. But one widely cited study for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found that a well-run virtual school can match outcomes of brick-and-mortar institutions.

To Jody Siebenmorgen, director of the Humboldt virtual high school, comparing her program with traditional schools misses the crucial fact. Her students have tried the old model, and it didn’t work for them. “A lot of my students were expelled from their local schools, and neighboring schools won’t take them,” she told me. “I work with 14 different probation officers. I also work with some gifted students who are bored stiff in their schools and just want to finish quickly and move on to greater challenges. I work with students in foster care. I work with a lot of teen moms juggling school and child care. I work with students who are battling illnesses that prevent them from going to school. I once had a student who received a double lung transplant, and she attended high school on a laptop in bed at Children’s Mercy Hospital.”

Real spending on education is increasing far faster than just about anything else (other than health care) and far faster than incomes and the financial benefits of education are not rising commensurately. In 1959 the annual tuition at my alma mater was $600. Ten years later it was $1,800. Ten years after that it was $5,400. Now it’s $52,000. It’s continuing to increase at about twice the rate of non-education or -health care inflation.

As the economist Herbert Stein quipped, anything that can’t go on forever will stop. One of the ways that will be attempted to stem the increase in the cost of education will be by going online. It will help some and hurt others but it doesn’t matter.

1 comment… add one
  • Andy

    Since we’re not currently living in a fixed location, we use the Florida Virtual School mentioned in the article. It’s about 75% of our older two kids’ education which we supplement.

    I did not like online university education when I worked on my Masters more than a decade ago, but the virtual school my kids attend is a lot better. It’s flexible, but there is still good teacher interaction. The main thing that’s missing is the socialization and interaction with peers. But modern grade schools don’t do the socialization well, they don’t provide enough free/recess time, physical activity time and hands-on activity time. At least in our experience and particularly given the number of kids on ADHD meds (mostly boys, no coincidentally IMO).

    There are a few schools around the country offering mixed programs – virtual learning for part of the time or for some courses combined with in-school learning. It may be the wave of the future, at least for upper-class parents who don’t need a full-day school for daycare purposes.

Leave a Comment