Slate, for whatever reason, teamed up this week with Columbia Journalism School's Teacher Project, to take a look at on line education. Much of their work is focused on on line courses as a means of credit recovery-- the quick-and-easy method of letting students replace credits for courses they failed. But the series tells us a great deal about what on line "education" is really like-- and it is not pretty. This is just how bad cyber schooling is.
As always, I will include the preface that A) cyber school doesn't have to be as awful as it is and B) it is a real boon to certain students.
The series ran through eight articles, and you should not miss any of them, but here are links and blurbs for each article in the series so you can make your choices (and so that they don't disappear entirely once Slate moves on to other things). Read these:
The New Diploma Mills
Zoe Kirsch digs deep for this opening article. While focusing on how Florida has used on line courses to boost graduation rates "many school districts, including several of the nation's largest, have seen graduation rates soar"), Kirsch also looks at the policies boosted cyber-schooling and just how bad it looks on the ground to actual cyber students. This piece gives a good overview-- with well-sourced specifics-- for the problem issues of virtual schooling, like cheating and content that is far less than rigorous.
Fast. Isolating. Superficial.
After she failed English her junior year at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania, Virginia, 17-year-old Amelia Kreck had to retake the class. It took her two days.
The title of Stephen Smiley's article comes from the answer to the question, "What are on line courses like for students?" Short reading excerpts, simple questions, work without any depth-- these themes turn up throughout the interviews with many on line course students. That and missing the interaction of a classroom, not just for social purposes, but because it helps with the learning.
I Am an Online Credit Recovery Dropout
Smiley also tried some on line courses as a student-- and found them so boring and superficial that he didn't complete them. "Boring and lonely" was his characterization. A look at how just how bad these courses are to work through.
Take These Students, Please
Francesca Berardi takes us to Chicago to look at how cyber-credit-recovery can morph into full-time cyber school for students who are far behind and at risk of not graduating and ruining a schools graduation rate numbers. It's a sad picture:
Daniel has had a lonely high school experience for the past two years. He spends four hours a day at Bridgescape, usually four days a week, and he seldom interacts with peers and teachers. When he struggles with an online test, his “best friend” is Google—something he is not discouraged to use—while teachers are a last resort. His main companions are his smartphone (for listening to music) and his Galaxy smartwatch (which helps him kill the time and stay in touch with his friends). “I can spend an entire day at school and not talk with anyone,” Daniel told me. Sometimes, he returns to visit his old teachers and classmates solely because he misses the warmth and bustle of a traditional high school.
Bottom of the Class
Berardi and Kirsch take a look at which cyber-schoolers are really awful. Odysseyware, Study Island, and A Beka Academy emerge as the bottom of the heap. Read why.
Online Education Doesn't Have To Be Isolating
Sarah Carr takes us to Bronx Arena for a look at some methods for making cyber school less isolating and awful. You'll have to decide on your own whether or not you're convinced.
Why Bad Online Courses Are Still Taught in School
Kirsch and Smiley take a look at the politics behind cybers. Florida, for instance, rates cybers, but does not do anything with the ratings. In many places, even though a cyber is rated a failure by the state, local districts can and do continue to use their services.
Why are the laws so toothless? Lobbyists and money. Cybers like K12 have dropped a bundle, and it turns out that ALEC is instrumental in making sure that the Right Connections are made to keep the laws favorable to the cyber school industry.
Just Take It Again
How easy are on line tests to game? Skipping over flat out cheating (like giving someone your login to take the test for you), the answer is "Pretty easy."
Meet Jeremy Noonan, who discovered that students doing cyber credit recovery through Edgenuity were getting roughly 37 out of 50 questions repeated on retakes of a major test. It's no surprise-- developing a larger question bank costs money. But particularly if a school district is enjoying the numbers boost that easily gameable tests provide, it's one more sign that actual education isn't really happening.
The entire series of articles is worth your attention. Read them in whatever order you like, but read them. This is the reality of cyber school.