What Online Academies are missing
A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal indicated that Cyber-School enrollment is up again, now hovering around 250,000 students nationwide. This is a twenty five percent increase from last year, and is projected to grow again in the future. As I thought about schools such as Florida Virtual Academy, with a student body of 4,500 students, I began to wonder if the future of our profession is online. As someone who is very “pro-technology” I think that the internet has changed the landscape for our profession and does give us a lot of options. My core belief is that technology remains a tool to use, not a replacement for highly qualified, engaging teachers.
As an advocate for schools, I think we do have to think about some of the reasons that a quarter of a million people have chosen online schools. Parents and children cited flexibility, individualized curriculum, time options, and overall student engagement as reasons they chose something other than traditional schooling. As schools, I think we have an obligation to re-think some of the traditional paradigms of our buildings, including offering classes at different times, finding ways to better fit individual needs, and always seeking new ways to engage learners.
However, I think back to last Friday night, and I realize that our schools have something that online schools could never replicate. My father-in-law, an administrator in another district, invited me to attend his high school’s football playoff game. We arrived at the stadium on a cold evening and enjoyed an amazing game that ended only after two overtimes. As students packed in to perform with the band or cheer on their school, I thought a lot about the social, experiential side of what we offer our learners. No online school, no matter how good, could ever offer the feeling one gets from cheering on “their school.” No online school, regardless of how progressive, could offer students the opportunity to give a live performance in front of a large crowd. They may be “schools,” but virtual academies can never be “communities.”
Academics are key, and student achievement should be what drives us as professionals. However, the next time the online school debate heats up, take a second and reflect on how we address the whole child.