The State of Schools: Virtually Useless

By: Kara Haselton 

With the increase in accessibility of technology, the idea of taking online classes or online schooling is growing in popularity. Many students are taking classes online that they wouldn’t be able to take otherwise. Due to the demand for more readily available classes in specific subjects students desire, the North Carolina government is making sure that they can provide those classes via online public schools. However, the creation of those classes involves diverting money that would otherwise be spent on traditional public schools.

When discussing the cost to enroll for online schools, it’s important to understand that the majority of these schools are free, enabling more students from various backgrounds to have a chance at taking an online class. According to the North Carolina State Board, North Carolina Virtual Public Schools (NCVPS) had nearly 100,000 enrollments for different courses in 2010-12, and it has continually grown since. However, the reason these virtual schools are free is resulting from the fact that most online schools are charter schools; this means that their funding is provided by the government and or private organization. According to Politico, $2 billion of taxpayers’ money are being sent to those virtual schools that often already have money from organizations pouring into them.

While the question of whether online schooling works or not is a debatable subject, the topic on whether online schooling is better than traditional schooling is not. Those who are “pro-online” argue that there is no major difference between the two learning environments and point out that students can, and are, still learning through virtual teaching. However, statistics provided by a report entitled, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools System,” show that students who take a course through NCVPS, or any virtual school, are less likely to pass an EOC or standardized test on that subject than those who take the same course in a traditional school setting.

As previously stated, people in favor of an increase in online classes say that there is not a huge difference in learning through online or traditionally. However, others are concerned that the rise of virtual schools could affect students socially, and are solely due to less money being given to public schools. The New York Times produced an article entitled “More Pupils Are Learning Online, Fueling Debate on Quality,” in which they discuss this very topic. They state that online classes are being praised and encouraged because of the “desire to spend less on teachers and buildings,” so that the money typically used on teachers and educators can be diverted to other causes, such as virtual education. In the same article, the New York Times also quotes a teacher, Ms. Aronowitz, saying, “‘This is being proposed for even your youngest students… Because it’s good for the kids? No. This is all about cheap.”

As a student who has taken an online course before, I can identify with the fact that students who take online courses typically do not do as well on a standardized test as they would if they had taken the class traditionally. I took a Spanish class through NCVPS, and while I did learn from the class, I missed the personal help and attention from the teacher and other classmates that a traditional class would provide. It felt as if I had to teach myself the information because I didn’t have a teacher in person who could explain things when I had a question. Another factor that was not brought up in research is that online classes involve the use of technology, and technology does not always work the way it is supposed to. I had many experiences where I couldn’t submit an assignment or take a quiz on time because the website, program, and or computer wasn’t working correctly. Another flaw that comes with having classes online is that resources to cheat are increasingly available. Students can easily Google a question or refer to their notes and find the answers they’re looking for. Because of this, students might get a good grade in the class but not actually learn anything.

I would strongly encourage students to take all the possible classes he or she wants to in a traditional classroom setting. While it can be argued that virtual education works, only a traditional class can provide that personal touch and social aspect. You would be surprised how much that can actually improve a student’s learning ability.