For-profit online schools are getting a second look from parents

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As you parents try to figure out the best remote schooling options enrollment in alternative online schools is skyrocketing. Some of these are for profit schools that get public money from states or public school districts for each student they enroll and they've actually been around for years. Jennifer King. Rice is a professor of education. At the University of Maryland who's studied for profit virtual schools she says, you shouldn't assume that having experience in remote learning means the school is better. The way they make money is that they have tend to have much higher student teacher ratios, and so they have fewer teachers available and they also I think the obvious thing is they save money on their facilities and you know what it costs to maintain physical school plant. What might student teacher ratio look like? Well, how big our class sizes they can get quite big the the main of you know across all virtual schools in a recent study that we did was about forty four students per teacher in a virtual school compared to about sixteen students per teacher. In the national average across the board in brick and mortar schools there is a lot of variation though. So you know this is not a one size fits all. There are some virtual schools who have student teacher ratios that are as high as twelve hundred students per teacher. Wow. Yes. I mean that sounds like college and that's K. through twelve school potentially that's a k through twelve school. So you know picture very large virtual classrooms where you know a teacher either has a prerecorded or I guess maybe in rare instances asynchronous lesson where you know twelve hundred students from home are engaging in that curriculum. And what do we know about outcomes I know with charter schools it's not always easy to measure or maybe there isn't a lot of oversight. Do we know whether these schools work? Well, it really depends on you know that the school and the arrangement with the school system. So you know there are some virtual schools that that deliver reasonable outcomes but this has been extremely uneven. Virtual schools have been highly under fire and you know increasingly there's been greater accountability for virtual school. By state legislatures in this study that we do every other year, we track legislation that's coming out around virtual education across the states, and in recent years, we've seen much more focus on accountability and trying to hold virtual schools to the same standards that we hold traditional brick and mortar public schools So I think that has been a struggle. This seems like a good option but in many cases, the test scores are really don't measure up. And and if I could just add that's just test scores. The outcome if we really think about the broad outcomes of public education, we should be thinking well beyond how students do on test scores to you know their their development as human beings, their ability to interact with other individuals who have different belief systems or who come from different backgrounds. So you know most of those interpersonal kinds of developmental achievements are not even accounted for. Is this a moment? Do you think given the pandemic and how many school districts are suddenly having to grapple with remote learning? Is this a moment when district's could learn though from what virtual schools have been doing or they could improve each other i? Think it absolutely is I. So I don't think we need to think about this. In fact, I don't think we can think about these issues as binary you know as all face to face or all virtual and I. Think you know The answer is very likely to be somewhere in the middle where we find the mechanisms that work the best using technology and leverage that technology to improve outcomes in in public schools. But if we go all virtual, we lose that interpersonal the soft skill development that we also very much care about. So you know the idea of using technology in ways that can individualize curriculum an individualized instruction that give students more choices about what electives they might be able to take and move at their own pace through that content. You know that's all very attractive and online curriculum can provide that freedom and flexibility and individualization. But online curriculum fall short when we're talking about all of these other kinds of outcomes they. In fact, they have fallen short to some extent even on the test score outcomes. But if we think about that whole range about comes that we have for K, twelve education in our country, you know we need. We need time together we need to be with students We need students to be with one another you know they're they're all the physical dimensions and the clubs and the CO curricular activities that are so important to having a holistic education.

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