Almost all of the 20 largest US school districts will offer online schooling options this fall. More than half of them will offer more full-time virtual school programs than before the pandemic. The trend looks set to continue or accelerate, according to analysis by Chalkbeat.
It is a problem. School closures over the past two years have inflicted severe educational and emotional damage on American students. Schools should now focus on creative ways to fill classrooms, socialize children and convey the joy of collaborative learning, not the option of staying at home.
Historically, various forces have driven online education – not all have focused on improving education. These include:
- The search for cheaper and more efficient modes of schooling.
- The desire to limit the influence of teachers’ unions by concentrating virtual teachers in non-unionized states.
- A variety of medical and social factors that lead some students and families to prefer online learning.
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Since the pandemic, some virtual programs have reasonably accommodated medically fragile students. But others are grabbing online education in a hasty effort to prop up public school enrollment, which has plummeted in some cities.
A new study shows that while young children, in particular, are recovering from the pandemic-era school slump, the gap between high and low poverty schools remains wider than it was before the pandemic. pandemic.
Research, where it exists, shows consistently poorer academic outcomes for online schools than for traditional public schools.
Cyber school students take their classes primarily from home and over the Internet, with teachers often located in different states and time zones. There is little comprehensive information on curricula, student-teacher ratios, the amount of actual teaching provided, or the academic support provided.
The negative impact of the pandemic on children’s emotional well-being and social skills – a third of school leaders reported an increase in disruptive student behavior in the last school year – is a cautionary lesson for online learning.
Graham Browne, the founder of Forte Preparatory Academy, an independent charter school in Queens, New York, said he recently saw a sharp increase in “aggressive or threatening” behavior, especially among sixth graders who passed much of the previous two years online.
On a recent multi-day field trip, Browne said that during team-building exercises, such as figuring out how to carry a large object across a low bridge, students resorted to shouting at each other. others. Previously, he says, they would have devised a strategy to maneuver the object together.
Equally concerning, when the school offered an online option in the 2020-2021 school year, Browne found that nearly half of its top-performing eighth graders — those who took algebra instead than pre-algebra – had chosen the option because it gave them the flexibility to pursue their studies at their own pace.
“Our school is small, so having such a large portion of high-achieving students outside of the building impacts peer tutoring, student morale, and a team-building culture that we put the emphasis on. emphasis at school,” Browne said.
But the most immediate threat comes from the private sector and especially for-profit virtual charter schools, which are notoriously low quality. Only 30% met public school performance standards, compared to 53% for district-run virtual schools before the pandemic. These schools, which spend a lot on advertising, exploded during school closures, when traditional schools struggled to offer online education. At the nation’s largest for-profit network, enrollment grew 45% to 157,000 students in the past year.
What children need most are strong in-person learning opportunities and the ability to experiment. Schools must also maintain reassuring safety protocols as variants of COVID-19 continue to spread.
Now is the time for schools to adopt engaging learning approaches, like those of a very poor school in the Bronx that uses the Bronx River as a science laboratory, and the school district of Leander, Texas, which entrusted the development of a -strategy of intimidation to high school students, in the process of training young leaders.
Some of these projects could be adapted to a hybrid format, emphasizing in-person collaboration.
What makes no sense educationally is the rush to embrace online education. Experience has demonstrated its serious drawbacks. State surveillance is not strong enough to mitigate them. Before moving forward, research should be funded and conducted by independent academics to identify potential benefits. Until that happens, schools should do everything they can to keep children in classrooms.
Gabor is a professor of business journalism at Baruch College, City University of New York. She wrote this for Bloomberg News.