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.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
Anna Weber
Anna Weber

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Diana Prince
Diana Prince

And this would be the issue with self teaching. Not every human has the focus.

Ed Krickel
Ed Krickel

Same problem in schools. Parents can be apathetic towards their child's learning and the results, well, are about what you would expect. Virtual is no different. Parents make a huge difference in a child's education.

Daniel McDowell
Daniel McDowell

online classes....where the answers to all your test are just a mouse click away

Max Brill
Max Brill

Ahh kind of like regular school.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

While the meme is that parents choose the online learning to meet the instructional needs of their student, reality as I have seen it does not match this.  There certainly are students who are highly driven who succeed in online school.  However, the ones I know are largely either students who are disinterested, unmotivated, and undisciplined (and whose parent thinks, "S/he is always on the computer.  Therefore, this should be what is needed.  They will just do fine parked in front of the computer (and I don't have to do anything.)"  Or, the students have social problems in regular school--emotional illnesses, interpersonal conflicts, religious or racial conflicts--that make on-line seem preferable.  Of course, there are other reasons, but these are the main ones I have seen, and, as a matter of fact, the examples cited in the original article almost all fall into these "reasons."

Another comment
Another comment

My child has taken and is taking German on the Georgia Virtual School. Very few schools teach German anymore! Which is crazy! German is still a major language of commerce in the world. What continues to make no sense is Fulton and Cobb schools near the Perimeter do not teach it, yet several major German corporations have made the Atlanta area their US headquarters. Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Siemens, the list goes on and on.

Yes, Dekalb teaches German at Chamblee and for $26,000 + per year your child can do dual Language Deutsche/English at the International School.

If you are in Sandy Springs or Vinings near these corporate opportunities you are limited to Spanish, French and Japanese. Most high schoolers have taken Spanish for 8-9 years by the time they get to high school. They also know so much slang. Anyone know any French corporations moving to town? Or Japanese Corporations moving to town?

Another comment
Another comment

My child has been taking several classes on Ga Virtual school. Since, she has ADHD after the first two week grading period of the first class, I wisely decided to obtain a 504 plan for her. Otherwise, we had surprise misses of work that she missed then would loose all or 30% credit off due to grading policies. Teachers don't have to let you know until 78 hrs after the Thursday due date that you have missed an assignment. Which virtuall assures either a zero or only a maximum of a 70. So with her 504, the teacher has to enter 0 if my child has missed an assignment ( often they do not attach or go through due to technical difficulties that Gavirtual and AT&T both deny, but screen shots tell another story). At least the 504 gives another shot. After all every school district in the State has a credit recovery or late work policy for every student.

Until late Spring GA virtual had very limited viewing on the parent audit site. You could basically only see your child's grades. When I complained about it, I was told well once we had more available and 95% of parent didn't use any more than grade review. So when we did an update we only decided to allow parents to view grades. I said what about the 5% that really care? Then I got responses like you could login as your child. I responded, that is against the signed policy you had my child sign that they would not let anyone login or use their credentials on the site. Same penalty as plagerism. Then all of a sudden late spring without announcement parents could view the actual class content. I could make my child study cards, review the course work with her. Did they not think a normal parent would go through a text book of a regular class to see what their child was learning. To help make study guides? To quiz the student?

DJCD
DJCD

I can only speak about high school online classes. At my school, two or three students a year might enroll in a virtual school AP class that is not offered at my school. They tend to do well. However, we have over 150 students taking credit recovery classes to try and make up a credit for a class they have already failed. These credit recovery classes are used by principals and superintendents to artificially improve the high school's graduation rate. This is the problem with our secondary education system. We aren't preparing our students for their next stage of life, we are handing them a diploma that has become "virtually" worthless because they are not equipped with the minimum skills necessary to operate in our economy. But the high school has a 93% graduation rate. Thanks to credit recovery. Now you think the governor's ERC will even tackle this problem? No way, the state just handed out thousands of high school diplomas to students who could not pass a Ga. High School Graduation test in subject areas that were ridiculously easy. All about graduation rates.

Starik
Starik

Online schools are also an affordable, easy to get into segregation academies. 

ute
ute

Two points:

1)  Online learning clearly does work for many students.

2)  Imagine if underperforming traditional public schools could be defunded for not producing results. And imagine this newspaper column actually siding with parents and supporting that.

redweather
redweather

@ute Imagine if charter schools could be required to show where the money goes.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Public service announcement:


When you tune into the DNC this evening, start at 6:00 p.m.  That is when Georgia's House Minority Leader, Stacey Abrams, will be speaking.  She is an outstanding woman and legislator from Georgia, and will probably be instrumental in changing Georgia from Red to Blue.  I, also, respect her views on public education.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Summary of Rep. Abrams' message: "No matter how little we had (growing up), my parents taught me that there is always a place in public service to serve someone who has even less, which is grace.  Hillary understands that and I stand with her as our President.  I stand as a new American majority who will work together rather than tear down.  The Democratic Party is the Party of Civil Rights and Arriving on the Moon.  We know that America is, and must always be, stronger together.  Thank you."


-------------------------------

I believe as Rep. Abrams does, as my parents, also, taught and guided me to be.  I am a white Georgian and Stacey Abrams is a black Georgian.  Our visions, however, overlap in these values.  We are both Democrats.

ABlafer
ABlafer

You must constantly monitor your child's progress. Teachers do not respond to emails the same day, like most programs claim.  Ungraded assignments can linger for 3-5 days. You must be ready with supplementary materials to fill in the instructional gaps, because the online materials don't explain everything well. Having said all that...if you are willing to monitor and supplement, online classes can fill in gaps left by the local schools. My son is completing his second year of latin this fall. His local school did not offer latin, only spanish, french, and german. Online was the only option. 

kaelyn
kaelyn

Congrats to the Ivy bound student. She is definitely the exception, rather than the rule. I doubt there are many kids disciplined enough to effectively manage an online course load.

Online classes taken for credit recovery don't make sense for most students. Students who fail a course need more hands on assistance and personal guidance, not less. I'm sure online classes are less expensive to offer than traditional classes, but the cost appears to be in the successful subject mastery.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@kaelyn The state is spending nearly $14,000 per student per year for this "less expensive" instruction.  SOMEONE is making out like a bandit.

Leslie Street Strenth
Leslie Street Strenth

Florida requires 1 online class to graduate. This can be an enormous burden on parents who work while kids are home (first assuming there's a computer with Internet access in the home). There could be language barriers, all kinds of roadblocks. Virtual labs in the schools would help the ill-equipped or unmotivated.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Florida's requirement is a sop to the private educational companies, as Georgia's would have been.

redweather
redweather

Online classes at the college level are also problematic. My daughter is taking an online class this summer and is struggling. Her experience mirrors that of what students have told me about online classes.  Main complaints:

1. professor is slow to respond to email

2. professor doesn't teach but rather leaves everything up to students

3. online discussions, which in theory are supposed to take the place of in-class discussions, are perfunctory at best, totally unengaged at worst

4. requests for help from professor go largely unanswered

Because my daughter was having such a hard time, I "visited" the class with her. Some observations:

1. confusing syllabus and class assignment schedule

2. confusing assignments

3. quizzes with feedback button; click on feedback and your are told your answer is "incorrect." So much for feedback.

4. no review of quizzes and exams; it's just move on to the next module . . .

Think twice before letting your son or daughter take an online class in college. These courses are often taught by low paid adjuncts who provide minimal instruction.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather


I would only add, beware of high school online degree programs, also, for the same possible reasons and also the fact that students learn through interaction with other students, debating concepts and ideas.  Parents should monitor what is happening, in detail, with online courses, both on the high school and college levels.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@redweather Do reputable universities offer correspondence courses anymore?  In 1973 I did one on American Government while I was student teaching because I was trying to finish in 3 years and was 2 hours short.  I guess they probably don't anymore.

flfenn
flfenn

I think what drags online schools below the performance bar is several things mentioned in the article: low-performing or already-behind students when they joined, lack of student motivation/time management, and missing parent/teacher/student relationships.  Online schools also tend to have a larger percentage of 'exceptional students' who bail out of their public school.  I agree that there needs to be some kind of advisory component that helps bridge some of these perceived gaps, reaching out to parents particularly, giving training sessions on how to monitor their child, helping them navigate the sometimes confusing world of online platforms, email, webinars, etc., things that many parents and grandparents don't have a level of competence and confidence using like their children and grandchildren.  Obviously, when there is a parent home during the day to monitor and manage their child's work time, there is more success, but the reality is that many students are left home alone during the day and are not prepared to manage their own time with so many other distractions around them, comforts of home, etc.  An adviser/mentor who checks on student progress regularly and keeps lines of communication open will provide a sense of accountability for both the student and the parent.  I think this is the best idea for GCA and one that can be easily implemented and will yield the most immediate results. 

redweather
redweather

@Wascatlady @flfenn Yeah, it looks like the folks at Cyber Academy seem to think that's some kind of mitigating circumstance. That's reality.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@flfenn " think what drags online schools below the performance bar is several things mentioned in the article: low-performing or already-behind students when they joined, lack of student motivation/time management, and missing parent/teacher/student relationships."


EXACTLY the same things that traditional schools experience.  And are blamed for.

Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell

The same problem exists with traditional schools. If child is not motivated they will not succeed.

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

The difference is there are more eyes on the kids to catch those falling behind including counselors and grad coaches. Also, the other kids in the class can provide a positive peer group to push a student to work harder. (They can sometimes provide a negative one as well.)

Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell

In either environment if the student does not make an effort, teachers are told it's their fault for not having a more engaging lesson. If a patient does not do what their doctor tells them, do we blame the doctor? Public schools take the blame even when being asked to perform miracles. Fortunately it's my passion. So I'll keep trying.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

In much of the research I reviewed when writing my dissertation, the influence of peer group on aspirations and high school graduation was stronger than almost anything, except parental expectation/aspirations!