The global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has forever transformed schools and businesses. As people around the planet seek a new normal in a world of social distancing and transformed work environments, many families are wrestling with decisions about schooling and when to send their kids back to school. School leaders are grappling with trying to implement CDC guidelines in an institution that faces seemingly insurmountable constraints on their ability to truly innovate.
In response to the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic, online schooling is becoming a hot topic of conversation for many families. I am in no way endorsing online schooling or implying that online schooling is better or worse than a traditional brick and mortar school. This is a very personal decision that each family should make with careful consideration. The questions below are intended as a guide for families who are navigating the plethora of online options available in Arizona.
What is the student to teacher ratio?
The online format is obviously very different from a traditional classroom. Online teachers do not need to manage student behaviors in a classroom or plan filler activities for students who complete work faster than their peers. Because of this, many online teachers are able to handle larger class sizes while giving students more individualized attention. In a traditional classroom 15-25 students is a good size for K-2 classes with 20-35 being reasonable for grades 3-12. However, in an online classroom, don’t be surprised (or concerned) if class sizes are nearly double that. In spite of the oftentimes larger class sizes, many online teachers are able to spend more time evaluating individual student work and providing meaningful and personalized feedback to students.
How much does it cost?
In Arizona, there are many great online school options that are free to students. Most major online schools are registered as an online charter school which allows them to receive funding from the state for each student enrolled. If an online school is asking for money, that may mean they are not accredited and thus may not be held accountable by any supervisory body.
How is the curriculum delivered?
Even in traditional brick and mortar schools, much of the curriculum is being delivered by computer platforms designed to personalize the learning experience for each child. These platforms analyze what a student knows and how well they know it then tailors the curriculum accordingly. This reduces boredom for students working with content that is below their academic level or frustration from curriculum that is too challenging. This is in stark contrast to the traditional linear format of textbooks which forces all students down identical pathways regardless of their level of mastery. When evaluating any curriculum (for a traditional brick and mortar school or an online school), it is important to ask if the curriculum is adaptive and if so, how much it differentiates the learning for each student.
Will my child have access to a real teacher? How often?
Students should have regular access to a teacher who will be available to offer support at the student’s request or initiate support when they see the student is struggling with the curriculum or with their motivation. Many online teachers have regular office hours where students can log in and video chat with their teacher. Oftentimes these office hours begin or end with live video lessons from the teacher that the student can watch as they are happening or after the fact. Be sure to ask if teachers are required to check in with students and how often they do so.
Are dual-enrollment credits available in high school?
With the cost of higher education increasing and the availability of dual credit options available, this is something any student who plans to attend college should consider. The curriculum is very similar to what the student would be receiving anyway in their high school class, but is designed to also align with college standards and is delivered by a teacher who is certified to teach at the collegiate level. Just a few dual-enrollment credits can save a student thousands of dollars in college tuition and give them some room to explore various majors in college without falling behind.
Is this right for my child?
Online learning may not be right for everyone. It requires discipline, motivation, organization, and effort. Most children naturally need help developing these traits and for students who are learning online as opposed to in a brick and mortar classroom, the parent or caregiver takes on the role of keeping the child accountable to learning. If you do decide to embark on the world of online learning, be sure to have an organized work space, a regular routine, and outlets for socialization. This will help students manage the highs and lows that inevitably come with any learning format.