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Problem with online classes: If child isn't motivated, parent must be

The zeal for online learning has cooled from the days when the Georgia General Assembly considered mandating every high school student in the state take at least one virtual class.

That’s because online courses don't fit every student. Initially targeted to ambitious students in rural Georgia who lacked options for AP or accelerated classes, online schools are now being touted for kids who are struggling or need to catch up on credits.

In my view, a successful online course requires one of two critical elements: Highly motivated students who don't require someone standing over them to get their work done or highly motivated parents who will stand over their children to ensure they get their work done.

After talking to parents over the years about virtual classrooms, it became clear to me someone has to be really conscientious, dedicated and on top of things. When online charter schools first began in Georgia, parents complained they had to act as "coaches" and be on hand to monitor their child's learning. They assumed they could put their kid in front of the computer and the virtual classroom would do the rest. That works for some students but not most.

My AJC colleague Ty Tagami explores that issue in his story Sunday on Georgia Cyber Academy and its 13,000 students.

Take a look at his excellent piece and let's discuss.

Here is an excerpt:

Georgians spend tens of millions of dollars a year on one of the biggest online schools in the nation, yet nearly every measure indicates the high-tech, online education model has not worked for many of its more than 13,000 students. Georgia Cyber Academy students log onto online classes from home, where they talk to and message with teachers and classmates and do assignments in a way that will “individualize their education, maximizing their ability to succeed,” according to an advertisement. But results show that most of them lag state performance on everything from standardized test scores to graduation rates.

The charter school’s leaders say they face unique challenges, with large numbers of students already behind when they enroll. They have plans to improve results but also claim the state’s grading methods are unfair and inaccurate. However, the state disagrees, and if the academy cannot show improvement soon, the commission that chartered the school could shut it down.

Since it opened with a couple thousand students in 2007, the academy has grown to become the state’s largest public school, with students from all 159 counties. In the 2015 fiscal year alone, it reported receiving $82 million in state and federal funding.

Evelyn Bailey, who graduated in May and will attend an Ivy League university this fall, said she was exposed to a diverse group of students through the classes and occasional organized field trips. Bailey thrived while attending class and doing homework on a computer screen in a windowless corner of her Douglasville basement. “You have to be the kind of student that enjoys having more responsibility,” said Bailey, 18. “You have to be good at managing your time.”

Too few students apparently share her drive and temperament. The academy earned a D for 2015 from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. The academy scored near the bottom in the state that year for “growth,” a measure of how each student did on standardized state tests compared to others with similar past performance. The graduation rate of 66 percent lagged behind the state average by 13 percentage points. Reading ability in third grade, a key marker of future academic success, also lagged, with 47 percent of its students able to digest books on their grade level versus a state average of 52 percent.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.