By Jim Dachos
Virtual learning opportunities break down the walls in our educational environment and help more students prepare for post-graduation success
Until all students are treated equally and given access to similar educational resources, we have little chance of achieving equality in K-12 schools. Ultimately, students must have the tools and resources they need not only to graduate, but to be prepared for post-high school success.
Checking off all of these boxes isn’t always easy in traditional educational settings, where many schools have yet to tap into the value of online, blended, and/or personalized learning. In most cases, the roadblocks include (but aren’t limited to) teacher shortages, curriculum imbalances, language barriers, the difficulty level of STEM/AP®/IB courses, and a lack of financial resources at the district level.
Four Ways Online Learning Can Lead to Educational Equity
By providing all students access to high-quality college and career-ready curriculum, and up-to-date instructional materials, tools, computers, and related technology, schools can not only break down the equity barriers, but also prepare their students for a lifetime of success. Here’s how online learning can help eliminate these obstacles and get districts on the path to 100 percent equality and equity in their schools:
- Helps overcome teacher shortages. There is a lack of trained, qualified, and certified teachers. There are also fewer instructors entering teacher preparation programs. The shortage is driven by several critical factors, including the teacher pay gap, stress and demoralization, and a lack of effective professional development, training, and mentoring. Combined with the aging teaching population, this will create an even bigger dearth in the future. The problem is particularly relevant in the math/science/computer science realm, where finding instructors is already extremely challenging. Partnering with a nonprofit provider like The Virtual High School (VHS, Inc.) can help schools effectively expand their educational resources even in challenging subject areas like AP®, math, and computer science.
- Prepares students for college success. There are certain requirements that students must meet to be accepted into college, and VHS allows them to fulfill these requirements through online learning in coordination with face-to-face options. Consider grades in college prep courses, for example. Most colleges will evaluate a student’s performance in college preparatory courses as the strongest sign of his or her ability to do well in college. Even if that student struggled early in high school, colleges will look favorably upon strong improvement in subsequent years. Colleges also look for students who took the most challenging courses available, and review their SAT and/or ACT scores, and their grades in all courses taken.
- Prepares them for digital learning in college. The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics shows that while overall postsecondary enrollment dropped by almost 90,000 students, nearly half a percentage point, from fall 2016 to fall 2017, the number of all students who took at least some of their courses online grew by more than 350,000, a healthy 5.7 percent. Right now, 73 percent of all colleges use digital learning, with the number and proportion of college and university students taking classes online growing steadily year over year. When students get comfortable using online learning in high school, they take that knowledge and experience with them into college.
- Opens up their world to new course opportunities. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, many students don’t have access to all the courses that will prepare them for college and careers. For example, only 50 percent of U.S. high schools offer calculus and just 63% offer physics. And, between 10 percent and 25 percent of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education (i.e., algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry). Minority students are disproportionately affected: one-quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II, and a third of these schools do not offer chemistry. Partnering with VHS allows schools to offer a wider variety of core and elective course offerings without incurring costs of adding an on-site class to their catalog.
When schools augment their existing curriculum with online/virtual learning experiences that offer a wide range of course options, both teachers and students win. Teachers’ use of digital content, tools, and resources in the classroom, for example, helps students develop the types of workplace and college ready skills they need to be successful in the future—and all while creating more equitable learning experiences.
Jim Dachos is VP of Educational Partnerships at the non-profit, The Virtual High School.
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