Last week The New York Times published what can only be described as a “hit piece” against online learning and leading virtual education provider K12 Inc. Light on evidence and heavy on word count, author Stephanie Saul levels allegations of bloated class sizes, underpaid teachers, and unsupervised learning environments.
Online learning meets a wide range of student learning needs, is customizable, and is unrestricted by geographic boundaries. But the Times’s piece overlooks these advantages, failing to interview, for example, the student with disabilities who can work at his own pace or the student in a rural state who would never have had access to AP physics or Mandarin Chinese if it weren’t for online options. Instead, Saul dismisses the benefits that virtual education holds for so many students.
The growth of for-profit online schools, one of the more overtly commercial segments of the school choice movement, is rooted in the theory that corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet can revolutionize public education, offering high quality at reduced cost.
Tom Vander Ark, a director for the International Association of K12 Online Learning, writes of the Times’s article:
The sensational barrage is against K12, the online learning provider, but it really isn’t about the company. It’s the shift from print to digital, the shift from place to service, and the emergence of the private sector as an important partner in the delivery of public education.
The backlash from the Times is not unlike that from education unions, who view online learning as a direct threat to their power. But while the Times and the National Education Association may lament the growing availability of choice in education, families are fighting for more school choice options, including online learning.
Online learning is certainly not for every student. But the principle behind it is: At its core, this is a movement about choice. And that’s why opponents have reacted so vehemently to it.
The existing public education system, practically devoid of choice for millions of American families, is the antithesis of what online learning has the potential to produce: an education tailor-made for the individual student.
Thankfully, changes in education financing (which include permitting dollars to follow children to the school of their choice) and rapidly advancing technology have made better educational options of a family’s choosing within reach. And many families have already made this choice.
The Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi writes about the opportunity online learning is providing children in National Review Online and highlights a video of Rocketship Academy, a blended learning school that leverages online learning in combination with the traditional classroom. Out of 3,000 low-income schools in California, Rocketship is the fifth-highest-performing.
Rocketship’s performance is consistent with findings released in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education. In a meta-analysis of more than 1,000 empirical studies on virtual learning, it found that “online learning has been modestly more effective, on average, than the traditional face-to-face instruction with which it has been compared.”
Every day, the customization of education is evolving as more and more online learning options proliferate and state education leaders work to free resources to help increase access for families. The shift toward online learning is a shift in the delivery of education. It’s a guarantee of access to educational opportunity and a giant leap toward providing a vast array of options for families.