More evidence that the virtual-school phenomenon is making inroads into traditional public education: An article in Educationnext profiles Performance Learning Center programs in Hampton and Richmond. Communities in Schools, an outside contractor, runs special programs geared to high school kids in danger of dropping out. Writes June Kronholz:
In a summary of its 2009–10 academic year, Virginia’s Communities in Schools reported that one-third of the students at its four PLCs were at least two years behind in academic credits when they arrived. They were a year or two older than their conventional-school peers and, in the previous year, averaged six suspensions and 24 absences each at their former schools.
The PLCs use NovaNET, an online curriculum marketed by Pearson Education Inc. The program tests a student at the end of each lesson, module and course. When a student doesn’t pass, the computer singles out the content he or she seemed not to understand, reteaches it and retests. Students progress at their own pace; they don’t get bored when the class moves too slowly or bewildered when it moves too fast.
The results? Kronholz again:
In 2009–10, the 432 youngsters who attended the four schools arrived with D averages in math, English, science, and social studies, and, except for math—which was still stuck in the basement—raised them to a C. But the averages include the 30 percent of kids who dropped out, switched to a GED program, or left for some other reason, probably lowering the grades.
Obviously, online teaching is no panacea for high school drop-outs, but it does provide educators an option. One big advantage: School districts can drop programs that don’t show results a lot easier than they can drop teachers who don’t deliver. The key is to establish objective metrics against which the contractors can be evaluated. The more competition and accountability we can inject into the system, the better.