The popularity of online public schools is increasing nationwide. Full-time online public education is now available to students in grades K-12 in about 30 states. Currently, over 250,000 students are enrolled in public online charter schools.

Some “cyber-schools” are enormous. For example, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, opened in 2000, serves over 11,000 students. Are cyber-schools really a better way to approach public education?

In live online classes, kids do problems on a shared, virtual blackboard. Webcams allow for real-time instruction, with 1-on-1 interactions via chat and messaging. When teachers write or put content on their screens, the students all see it.

To raise their hands, kids click a button. If learners “don’t get” what the teacher is presenting, they can send anonymous notes – which cyber teachers say is a big improvement over a traditional classroom, where children are often reluctant to admit they’re confused.

Accredited online public school classes allow kids to take interesting courses they wouldn’t find at their local school. In this context, cyber classes improve education beyond what’s economically possible in a traditional public school setting.

The other side of the coin is self-paced, independent study type courses, which many kids find boring and isolating, some to the point of dropping out. A high percentage of online public school courses are presented in this format – it’s much cheaper for the school.

Turnover rates for cyber-schools often exceed 50%, with 25% considered good for the industry. When kids return to public schools, they need to be remediated to ensure they can work at grade level.

In many states, cyber-schools are paid by the student, and bill school districts for the money. They charge differing amounts based on what the districts themselves spend per student. This drains bricks-and-mortar schools of funds, while some cyber-schools are reaping millions in profits.

Meanwhile, public schools are increasingly running their own online education programs in an effort to keep students who might otherwise choose online or bricks-and-mortar charter schools. in Pittsburgh has recently begun doing this, having lost about 60 students to charter schools.

How might the increase in online public school attendance affect tutors, especially in communities where these schools are popular? I’m speculating that these are some of the potential impacts:

  • Tutors might find it harder to get word-of-mouth referrals for new clients outside the bricks-and-mortar social setting.
  • Kids attending online schools might benefit even more from face-to-face, 1-on-1 tutoring.
  • Is online instruction really as good as classroom instruction? If not, more children might need tutoring to prepare them for college and/or for the SAT or ACT.
  • Some tutors with the right teaching credentials might find a cyber classroom more to their liking than a traditional classroom, and could get a good job that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

How do you feel about all-online charter schools? Are they a better way to educate children than traditional classrooms? Please comment and join the discussion on this controversial topic.

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