Reasons High Schools Are Requiring Online Classes

So far, the states of Virginia, Idaho, Alabama, Florida, and Michigan — along with school districts across the United States — require all high schoolers to complete one or more online courses before graduation. To mixed fanfare, obviously. But despite the alleged madness, there float about some very reasonable motivations for pushing such legislation. For example …

  • Digital literacy:

    One of the most common reasons policymakers and educators support the trend toward mandatory online courses involves an acknowledgement of technology’s encroachment upon daily life. With more and more employers demanding a functional knowledge of all things digital these days, starting students off early only benefits them in the long run. In the states requiring participation in online classes, high schoolers gain a distinct advantage before trotting off to college or the workplace. Not to mention that learning about all the ins and outs of online life through the comparatively safer confines of a virtual classroom drives home essential lessons in “netiquette” (does anyone even use that buzzword anymore?) and responsible Internet practices. With cyberbullying existing as a serious issue parents, teachers, and administrators are only just now paying attention to, instilling upcoming generations with a sense of propriety while traversing digital spaces means everyone receives an equal shot at the safety and respect they’re entitled to.

  • More course options:

    In Idaho, a state that now requires all high school students to complete at least two online classes before graduating, variety proved one of the many motivating factors behind implementing the legislation. Extending the necessities means extending the curriculum to include classes that might not otherwise be available using purely local resources. It also allows more gifted and talented individuals to start taking engaging courses at the college (or even graduate) level so they actually learn something while in school. Some districts in Idaho hope to experiment with exchanges, where a teacher savvy in one subject in one area “trades” time with expertise with a counterpart elsewhere. Foreign languages in particular thrive with this model, as many articles on the subject tout, although it’s easy to see how such a structure exposes students to a much, much wider array of subjects they might not otherwise access in the traditional setting.

  • Saving money:

    Criticisms of the online education policies often site cost as a factor inspiring concern, especially since full implementation of the states’ varying plans will admittedly require some up-front costs. But supporters enjoy pointing out that, in the long run, incorporating Internet-based curricula saves those precious state and federal dollars. It means fewer expenditures on classroom necessities, because students may access course materials at home or via computer terminals at school or in the library. Plus — and this is the part that rankles teachers unions for perfectly understandable (and legitimate) reasons — it means educators can take on more classes, thus reducing the number districts need to hire. So while budget cuts might force the states’ hands in this situation, it does come packaged with some unfortunate implications for some teachers. But we’ll look at that later.

  • Greater outreach:

    Online classrooms, in some ways, democratize education. Comparative to their traditional predecessors, they open up far more opportunities to at-risk, special needs, and rural or otherwise geographically isolated students. The self-directed nature allows for pupils to process the tasks at their own personal paces, and success in turn instills confidence that could quite easily quell potential behavior problems. Such a structure also provides more opportunities for customizing lessons for special needs individuals as well as those living in circumstances requiring flexibility (working to help support the family, illness or injury, funkadelic districting, etc.), increasing their chances of completing high school with higher grades. It makes perfect sense that states believe incorporating online courses into the curricula will reflect better on their overall performance. And, seeing as how education is a basic human right rather than a privilege, the move certainly makes a progressive movement toward inclusivity.

But things aren’t always perfect in the world of online education, because things aren’t always perfect with most things. There are some genuine downsides to requiring such classes of graduating students that need consideration before implementation. Policymakers must keep these issues in mind and design viable solutions when forging legislation.

  • Students:

    Accessibility, so often trumpeted as online education’s most significant strength, so often stands as one of its most glaringly problematic elements. How poetic, right? But since it impacts students the most, it needs addressing when whispers of requiring online education switch to actual conversations. For one thing, it needs a reliable Internet connection to function, not always a reality in more rural or resource-deprived areas. Students from low-income households might struggle to schedule computer time at school or the library, heightening anxiety and compromising their grades. And, of course, there are the special needs individuals. Accommodations, such as audio for the visually impaired or additional time for the ADD/ADHD, must legally be made to ensure equal access. But the fact remains that some, not all, children might very well get left behind (pun intended) if the requirements pass. Educators and politicians have to anticipate these scenarios and ensure the policies at hand make allowances for specific circumstances so every high schooler impacted receives an equal chance at success.

  • Teachers:

    Obviously, the needs of the teachers themselves ought not be jettisoned from the equation, either. A combination of Internet-based and traditional classroom practices has proven stellar at increasing grades and knowledge retention, to be certain, but the online element still gives many pause. For one thing, teachers and their unions fear that a gradual shift toward digital learning initiatives might mean fewer job opportunities in the future. They also wonder if their positions will eventually grow obsolete as they, little by little, get handed over to Our Robotic Overlords. However, even the most sophisticated technologies these days require human intervention and operation, so the latter situation likely won’t come to pass anytime soon. As for the former, though, they do have a point, and hopefully any statewide initiatives draw up plans to ensure some modicum of security for hardworking educations who so often wind up tackling thankless, stigmatized tasks.

How compulsory online classwork might come to shape the future of not only the students themselves, but the education sector itself, remains completely open so far. It could prove itself the best decision possible, an unprecedented disaster, or (more likely) something reasonably in between.