Starting with this year’s crop of ninth graders, every high schooler in the state must take an online class to graduate, writes Laura Sensee at the Miami Herald.
Michael Simonson, a professor of instructional technology and distance education at Nova Southeastern University says:
“Depending on your level of optimism or cynicism, you would look at Florida as either way ahead of others and trying to improve, or say there’s something underhanded and trying to undermine public schools.”
Students can learn at a pace that suits them and can access and log on whenever and wherever they want. Students will also have access to physical education online material.
However, many critics say the move drains money from school districts, limits the social experience of education and affords few benefits for students who are not highly motivated.
“I cannot think of any reason to mandate it for high school students other than saving money and/or making money for their friends’ companies that are running the systems,” said Jennifer Smith, who teaches French at Hialeah High and is active with United Teachers of Dade.
In 1997, Florida created Florida Virtual School as an Internet-based public high school. Since its launch the project has continued to expand and develop. It now offers k-12 classes and recognized as a state-wide school district that will teach some 150,000 students this year.
Participation has increased over the past few years, despite only a small percentage of Florida’s 2.6 million school-age students took online classes last year.
“Around 122,000 students are enrolled in Florida Virtual School, a school started by the state a decade ago, more than double the number of students who took online classes in 2007,” writes Christopher O’Donnell at the Herald Tribune.
Many experts reject the notion that the classes are easier than regular classes. They predict the low cost of delivering virtual education will eventually result in more students taking classes online.
The virtual school does not have to pay for physical buildings, meaning no custodians, cafeteria workers or buses. The state does not pay if a student fails to complete an online course, which led Florida TaxWatch to call Florida Virtual a bargain in 2007.
“We are performance-based,” said Pam Birtolo, Florida Virtual’s chief learning officer. “I think it ensures that students are learning.”
Christopher McGuire, principal at the Broward Virtual School, an A-rated local franchise of the statewide program says:
“To tackle something as large as every ninth-grader graduating with having an online course, we’re going to have to dig deep.”
Students can log onto computers in virtual learning labs., work in their classes and discuss the work with fellow students and teachers. About 30 schools in Miami-Dade and about 10 in Broward will have such labs. A technician is constantly on hand to manage the lab and help with any technical trouble.
“We are still teaching,” said Gia Braynon, a counselor at C.O.P.E. Center North, a program for pregnant teens, who has recently joined a session that looks to train lab facilitators. “It’s 25 kids in a room. They still have that one-on-one attention on the subject they’re doing on the computer.”