For parents who want to add flexibility to their children’s education but feel unequipped to homeschool them, virtual learning options can be a welcome solution. For some families, enrolling their children in virtual schools – a growing number of which are popping up across the country – means getting customized yet flexible learning environment in which their children can thrive whatever their skill level might be.
But taking advantage of these options doesn’t come without some unique concerns. The lack of accountability and questions about how online learning stacks up against its traditional counterpart have been making the news as long as the schools have existed. Preliminary research has shown that online schools tend to have higher dropout rates and there are still no definitive answers as to the quality of the academic outcomes they produce.
“(Online schools) are a big trend in education, but nobody really knows what to make of them yet,” said M.D. Roblyer, an education professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has studied Web-based schools. “The opportunity is there. The experience can be as good or better than face-to-face, but the teachers have to be qualified and the students have to be ready to learn online.”
Yet, among parents, these schools are a godsend. Unwilling to send their kids to public schools, yet lacking the skills or time to educate them themselves, parents are increasingly turning to online schools – many of them charters – as a perfect solution to both the problems.
Online learners include actors and athletes with heavy travel schedules, children who stay in their homes because of medical conditions, military families, and students and parents uncomfortable or struggling with the social elements found in brick-and-mortar schools. Online schools also have a high percentage of high-risk and special-needs students who arrive behind on credit.
What could be contributing to the high dropout rate is the fundamental lack of understanding by parents that online schools are not a set-it-and-forget-it type of option. Heavy parental involvement is required to keep students at their lessons and to make sure that they’re keeping on top of the material. Even though the student can set the pace and learn on their own time, parents still need to be there to make sure that learning does take place. In traditional classrooms, a lot of the teachers’ efforts go towards classroom management. At home, those duties fall on the shoulders of parents.