Rural Schools and Online Education


Chalkbeat reported yesterday on how a small rural school district in Indiana has tripled its enrollment through online education which has helped the brick and mortar school survive.

At what cost, however?

In one year, a tiny rural Indiana school district more than tripled its enrollment, growing to nearly 1,000 students. But more than 800 of those students learn exclusively through a virtual education program — and despite fully funding it, the state has no way to know how well it’s doing.

State officials, researchers and the public can’t easily determine if students are learning because Union Schools’ virtual program and others like it are not distinct schools. Their student performance, enrollment, teaching staffs, and other data are rolled into existing brick-and-mortar schools.

Indiana lawmakers are starting to pay attention to the rapid growth in Union and realizing that programs like these could come at considerable cost. Unexpected growth in public schools is throwing off school funding estimates.

Indiana is not the only state experiencing this. In my home state of Iowa, two rural school districts opened virtual academies in order to draw in more students. Like Union Schools in Indiana, Clayton Ridge Community School District in Garnavillo, IA partnered with K12, Inc. to open Iowa Virtual Academy.   CAM Community School District in Anita, IA opened Iowa Connections Academy that is partnered with Connections Academy, a division of Connections Education LLC.

Unlike Indiana, Iowa breaks reporting down by school district and school so everyone who can access the Iowa Department of Education’s website can look at the district and school reports in order to compare students in the brink and mortar schools of those school districts with those who are enrolled in the districts’ virtual academies.

The Iowa Department of Education recently launched Iowa Learning Online as part of a change in the Iowa Code the Legislature authorized. Their purpose is “to help local Iowa school districts expand learning opportunities for their high school students through high quality, rigorous courses delivered online.”

Unlike CAM and Clayton Ridge’s virtual academies, ILO is supplemental and only targets high school students, and not a full-time K-12 program.

This trend I’m not certain it is a positive one – especially in terms of full-time, K-12 education that is solely online as we’ve noted some of the pitfalls of personalized learning utilizing ed tech that is being implemented in brick and mortar schools. I’m not saying all online education is bad, but parents who choose this direction, in particular, if it is full-time, need to understand the problems and the benefits.

It seems as though this particular trend was started because of the need for school funding, not because it is best for students.