The Pros and Cons of the Virtual Classroom

Although computers are a big part of online education, much of the actual work is completed in the same way as it is in a traditional school. Kids still read books, fill out worksheets, write papers, complete science experiments, and take quizzes and tests. Students submit work to teachers in a number of ways, depending on the assignment. Some of the assignments and assessments are printed, scanned, and uploaded via an online “drop box.” Other work is done completely online. Many schools ship textbooks and other materials to the students. Parents, called learning coaches, are required to work closely with their child, making sure the child is completing the work. As students become older, more responsibility rests on them.

The parent is a lot more involved at the elementary-school level, when students need more hand-holding. As the students get older, they have to be motivated to log onto the computer, do the assignments, and ask for help when they need it.

Is Online Education Right for Your Kids?

Research is also mixed on how well students perform academically in online charter schools. A 2009 U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis reviewed 51 online learning studies and found that, on average, students enrolled in an online class performed better than did students receiving face-to-face instruction for that same class. But 44 out of the 51 studies included in the report focused on students enrolled in higher education classes; only a handful focused on K-12 education. A 2011 report published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at eight cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania and found that students at these schools performed worse in reading and math than did their peers at traditional schools. Many research studies have looked at the effects of combining online learning with face-to-face instruction in single courses, often called blended instruction, and found that these students score as well as students in traditional classes.

Complicating matters is that many online schools are run by for-profit organizations that operate as public charter schools, which are funded by taxpayer dollars. According to an Education Week article published online, these private companies obtain a charter through the states to operate as public schools, meaning that public dollars are spent through private companies.