Atlanta Schools Using Online Education to Improve Graduation Rate

The number of students learning online via K-12 schools is rapidly growing across the United States, and now Atlanta, Georgia schools have adopted an online education system to help improve graduation rates in the district.

According to Mark Niesse of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta launched the online classes program after nearly half of its students failed to graduate on time.

Atlanta Virtual Academy is designed to help improve upon the 51% graduate rate for Atlanta public schools. The program will not "solve the problem of students dropping out or falling behind, but it could slowly inch Atlanta graduate rate upward," writes Niesse.

In summer of this year, about 100 high school students enrolled in a pilot program with 43% of those who were retaking classes earning passing grades. More students have already signed up for the online classes and the Atlanta Virtual Academy's enrollment is expected to grow in the fall semester.

"The ultimate goal of any of our programs where we're giving kids the opportunity to gain credit is to increase graduation rates, period," said Doryiane Gunter, Atlanta Public Schools' program manager for virtual learning. "If a student is two credits short of being promoted to the next grade, or if a student has a scheduling conflict that prevents them from being promoted, this is another way for them to get it done."

Under the Atlanta Virtual Academy program, students are required to log on between 20 and 24 hours a week for a class during the summer and between 12 and 15 hours a week during the longer semesters in the regular school year. The course software will allow teachers answer questions and track whether students are spending enough time online.

Online learning appears to be as effective as conventional classroom instruction, according to a U.S. Department of Education study in 2010.

Since July 2012, Georgia law has allowed students to choose whether to take free online courses from the state or their local districts, said Christina Clayton, director of instructional technology for the Georgia Department of Education, which oversees the Georgia Virtual School. It is expected that about 20,000 students will enroll in the state's online courses this fall, and about 8,000 students are expected to be seeking to recover credits from classes they have previously failed.

Tracy Gray, a managing director for the American Institutes for Research, said that online learning is increasing across the country but research into the effectiveness of online classes is limited.

"Technology is like putting a piano in the room and expecting everybody to be (Frederic) Chopin," Gray said. "Unless teachers know how to use the technology and the students have the necessary support they need to master the course content, then it can only go so far."

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