The Role of Online Education in Graduating At-Risk Students

Online education, previously primarily used for promoting accelerated learning, is gaining traction as a widespread alternative to traditional school.   According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), 82% of U.S. school districts had students enrolled in online classes in 2010.  Most recently, digital learning has been recognized as a useful tool for supporting at-risk and off track students. Proponents of digital learning have called on the government to increase the availability of funding for online classrooms, professional development for teachers and digital infrastructure, such as broadband, to support online learning.   In a recent policy brief, the Alliance for Excellent Education argues that online learning’s flexibility makes it ideal for preventing high school dropout and narrowing the achievement gap.  The brief notes that online learning can be more easily tailored to fit students abilities, interests and needs.  It points to the success of projects like Alabama’s ACCESS (Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, and Students Statewide) program, which enrolled 26,197 students in classes that counted towards graduation requirements in 2009. iNACOL notes that this individualization also makes online learning ideal for credit recovery because it  identifies and focuses on areas students have the most difficulty with.  In Virginia, Performance Learning Centers (PLCs) use teacher supervised online learning, known as blended learning, to help at-risk students catch up and graduate.  Virginia’s PLCs recruit overage, undercredited and chronically absent students in a last ditch effort to get them on track to graduate.  Thanks to its unique “blended” approach to teaching, the PLCs appear to be working; Virginia’s PLCs graduated one third of their 2009 at-risk enrollees by 2010. Additionally, the PLCs reported high scores on the Virginia’s end of course exams, ranging from 90 to 100 percent.  Proponents argue that theses scores, which are equal to or better than state averages, disprove arguments that the online learning promotes lower standards. Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.  

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