December 12, 2006
Internet schools or “e-schools” are a rapidly expanding sector of Ohio’s charter schools. Taking their inspiration from myriad distance learning programs across the country, the state’s e-schools provide parents another viable option for educating their children. Currently, there are seven statewide e-schools serving 21,000 students--and another 35 intra-district programs offering online courses to hundreds more.
Because instruction takes place in a “virtual” classroom and students often work from home, many people have only a vague notion about what e-schools are, who enrolls in them, and how they operate. To shed some light on Ohio’s e-school programs, Gadfly asked Susan Stagner, Head of School at Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA), to answer a few questions about the Buckeye State’s newest--and fastest growing--type of school.
Gadfly: Describe a typical day in the life of an e-school student and teacher.
Stagner: An e-school student spends, on average, five dedicated hours to academic work each day--with some flexibility regarding when they complete their work. For instance, students may work for four hours on some days and seven hours on others. Each day, a student may be introduced to new material through a variety of mediums including traditional textbooks, online courses, live web courses, face-to-face tutoring sessions, or a combination of these. Students may also join their peers on a field trip to a museum or outdoor metro park.
A typical day for an e-school teacher is spent conducting a variety of instructional activities. Teachers hold scheduled live instructional lessons over the web whereby a group of students interact with the teacher in a virtual classroom. Other times, teachers may initiate a web tutoring session to provide individualized or small group instruction. In addition, teachers hold conference calls to parents and students to discuss student progress, lesson planning, subject-specific questions, and the evaluation of student work. Teachers may also communicate with families, administrators, and other teachers through email or through web conferencing tools; they utilize other online tools to record student attendance, monitor student progress, and review student lesson assessments for gaps or difficulties in student learning.
Gadfly: In what ways are e-schools held to the same standards of accountability as other schools?
Stagner: E-schools are held accountable for student academic achievement like every other public school in Ohio. They are required to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards as well as the state of Ohio’s academic accountability standards. All e-school students are required to participate in the state-mandated diagnostic, achievement, and Ohio Graduation Tests.
Additionally, e-schools are subject to several different audits (fiscal, special education, federal grant, etc.) like other public schools to ensure they comply with state law.
Gadfly: Why do you think a growing number of Ohio students are choosing to attend e-schools? What students are choosing e-schools?
Stagner: Ohio parents choose to enroll their students in e-schools for a variety of reasons. Often parents are dissatisfied with their child’s previous school--because their child(ren) was bored, bullied, or falling behind academically. Some parents say their child could not focus on learning in the previous classroom setting due to a personal health issue or peer distractions. Others may be concerned with the lack of discipline in their child’s previous school.
Many older students are choosing e-schools because they want the flexibility that an e-school offers. If disciplined, high school students who want or need to work can balance both more easily in an e-school environment than in the structured schedule required by a brick-and-mortar school. E-schools can also offer more individualized programs that help students fill learning gaps from their prior educational experiences.
Gadfly: How do e-schools get their funding? Should e-schools be funded at the same level as brick-and-mortar charters? Why or why not?
Stagner: In Ohio, e-schools are funded primarily by state foundation funding and like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, do not receive any local funding from property or income taxes. E-schools are eligible for federal and state grants but do not receive parity funds for economically disadvantaged children, gifted funds, or career technology funds.
E-schools should be funded at the same level as brick-and-mortar charters. While e-schools don’t have buildings, they do have teachers, technology and instructional transportation costs. A high quality e-school has to invest in state-of-the-art online and offline curriculum, sophisticated communication tools using a variety of technologies, computer server farms that require ongoing maintenance and support, and computer equipment for students and teachers.
E-school student funding is a matter of equity and fairness. Ohio is charged with providing access for all children to free and appropriate public education, not just some students.
Gadfly: The report Halfway Out the Door , which Fordham released last year, noted that only 21 percent of surveyed Ohioans think schools that “get state funding and allow students to do their work at home over the Internet, under adult supervision” were a good idea. How would you respond to this finding?
Stagner: E-schools are a new and very innovative way to attend a public school and will not be every family’s school of choice. Many people who have had no exposure to a quality e-school will find it hard to envision such programs. But when people experience quality e-schooling through a personal demonstration, most understand it and are excited about the opportunities to individualize learning paths for their children.
OHVA educates 3,800 students from across the state in grades K-12 and was rated “Effective” (the state’s second highest rating) in 2005-06 under Ohio’s accountability system. OHVA’s curriculum is supplied by K12, Inc., a national provider of online curriculum and academic support materials. (Note: Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr., sits on the board of K12, Inc.)