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Online High Schools As Possible Solution to America's Education Problem

Updated on October 5, 2009

Online High Schools As a Possible Solution


Mel Brown

Online students miss out on the intellectual exchange compared to a student who is experiencing the course in person. I had heard this from one of my long time faculty mentors—a well respected History professor who had written many books and articles. We were discussing the merits of an online college degree because at the time I thinking of pursuing a Master's Degree online. In the same conversation stated, “Could you imagine if high school students were allowed to take online courses? We would have chaos. He felt that high school students did not have the maturity required to succeed in an online environment. Recently, I had read that states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida are implementing online class rooms in their districts and their students are experiencing great success. The article refutes my mentor's opinion of the negative impact of online classes to high school students. This essay will examine the reasons behind the rising popularity of online high school programs in the U.S., the effectiveness on online education at this level, and the differences in course design between higher education and K-12 schools. By examining these three areas, hopefully you will get a better grasp of the impact on online education in K-12.


Examples of Online High Schools and Their Reasons Behind Their Popularity

            In 2006, fifty thousand high schools enrolled in online courses through Florida Virtual High School, a state sponsored program that geared toward not only implementing online based education but to increase graduation rates. (Carnevale, 2006).  Also in that same year, school officials in Traverse City, Mich., provided online courses through the state's Virtual School program to hundreds of students in their homes, to deal with the classroom shortages (Carnevale, 2006).  Wisconsin created a Virtual Online Charter Academy with about 90,000 children obtaining their education through the internet (Carnevale, 2006).  Wisconsin's virtual academy is one of many online high schools nationwide that are financed through state funding—these schools comprise mostly of elementary and middle schools. As one can see from these examples that due to the problems associated with public high schools such as low retention, large classrooms, and poor facilities increasing funding efforts to support online education states are attempting to address this problem.

States such as Minnesota and California have provisions in their state laws that permit students to enroll in charter programs that are paid for by the government. Some of these schools are entirely online (Carnevale, 2006).  The Blue Sky school district in Minnesota offer students the chance to earn a diploma online without paying for classes or materials (Carnevale, 2006). California’s Choice 2000 is completely online, completely free, and completely accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (Carnevale, 2006). Some schools within these programs are regularly providing computer equipment and hands-on materials free of charge. Some states are implementing online high school education by introducing legislation.

Michigan's governor signed a bill into law in April 2006 making the state the first in the nation to require high-school students to take at least one course online before graduating (Carnevale, 2006). Some lawmakers opposed the requirement because the state would be contributing to students becoming reliant to the Internet—as are most young people reliant on video games for their primary form of entertainment. But proponents countered that the online-education experience would help prepare students for college as most colleges and universities are placing more courses online. To the proponents, these online courses taught students how to be self-reliant and self-driven which are two skills that every college student should obtain.  The online provision was part of a broader package of high-school-graduation requirements, which also standardized the amount of mathematics, science, social studies, and English credits students must take to get a diploma (Carnevale, 2006).

In an effort to research the effectiveness online high school courses and show how online learning could become a part in the curriculum, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 975, authorizing the Texas Education Agency to invite interested high schools to submit an application to become a member of the Virtual School Pilot Project (Hurley, 2003). The focus was to explore how taking online courses would benefit at-risk students. Southwest Preparatory was one of seven charter schools, 14 independent districts and two district consortia in Texas that participated in the program last.

Parents who choose to home school their children are the ones that are mostly interested in these virtual high schools. These schools mostly consist of students downloading assignments and communicate with their certified teachers in chat rooms, but they also have access to eBooks and various libraries.  Legally, they are considered public school students, not home-schoolers, because their online schools are taxpayer-financed and subject to federal testing requirements (Hurley, 2003).

A growing number of teenagers are earning their high school diplomas through the internet. Distance learning is an excellent choice for students who need to stay home for health reasons, desire to work at slower pace, find themselves unable to concentrate on their work in the traditional setting, or need to schedule their learning around a career (such as acting) (NEA, 2008).

The popularity and appeal to online courses is obvious. The technology can increase the range and the number of courses available to all students as well as provide accessibility to special populations of students such as disabled, incarcerated, and atypical students for whom regular classrooms are not effective.  The number of High School students enrolled in online courses is large and growing by leaps and bounds. One estimate is that 30,000 high school students have taken an online course (NEA, 2008) and that another 25,000 students are enrolled in teacher-led online courses this academic year alone (NEA, 2008). When all kinds of online courses or online options are considered, the number enrolled may be closer to 50,000 or even 100,000 (NEA, 2008). Knowing the growing popularity of online high school courses, how effective are these courses?


Effectiveness of Online High School Education

Whether or not online high school courses are making a difference can be seen with certain population of students. In 2006, The University of Texas at Austin developed online courses for Mexican immigrants attending high school in the United States to introduce them to educational system as well as a different mode of learning here in the United States while taking courses in their native language (Carnevale, 2006).

The online courses, covering high-school mathematics and science were taught in Spanish by teachers who were fluent, and these courses met Texas graduation requirements. According to Felipe T. Alanis, associate dean for continuing education at the university the number of immigrant children and limited-English children in Texas is large, and finding qualified instructors is a difficult task. These students can complete a few courses online, but they will not be allowed to complete all their high-school courses in the fashion according to, Alanis (Carnevale, 2006). He also states that these students developing English skills at a rapid pace perhaps due to the non pressure atmosphere that would have received in an actual class room (Carnevale, 2006).

In 2002, The Illinois online Network found that asynchronous discussions in an online course allowed high school learners time to think and reflect on material thus increasing the understanding of the subject matter (Hurley 2002). Instead of answering a question on the spot, the learner gives more consideration and time to the respond, which resulted in more engaged learning (Hurley 2002). Thus, instead of only learning facts, students discuss topics and become active participants in the learning process. High School students of the Rapid City Academy's virtual high school in South Dakota had similar experiences thus supporting the research of the Illinois online school. Eighty eight percent of academy instructors stated that reflective learning, student engagement, and student-centered instruction as advantages of internet instruction (Podell & Randle, 2005). In addition, students' responses to individual teacher's requests for feedback regarding the online education experience indicated the positive impact of a personal connectedness to the instructor through the use of e-mail, threaded discussions, and journaling instruction (Podell & Randle, 2005). Now that we have addressed examples of effectiveness, let us turn our attention to the difference in course development

Higher Education versus High School: Online Course Development Differences

Course development for Distance Education within Higher Education has had a long history compared to the history of online course development in the high schools. Higher education courses and programs have a longer track record and a different set of purposes, administrative practices, and audiences. The characteristics of effective online courses at the college level have recently been identified in such documents as the National Education Association's Quality on the Lineand the American Federation of Teachers' Distance Education: Guidelines for Good Practice (NEA, 2008). Some of these characteristics also apply to online courses in a high school environment such as the accounting for various learning styles. In both high school and higher education online course development, to account for all learning styles course websites often implement real-time chat functions, discussion, boards, real time web cam lectures, and perhaps recorded lectures. But to be effective, online courses must address the unique social, educational, and emotional needs of high school students. Online high school courses can accomplish this by establishing clearly defined deadlines, creating more real-time interaction between student and teacher, creating a supportive environment, since additional limitations and concerns may arise when a significant portion of a high school student's coursework is completed online, it is important to prioritize goals for individual courses.

Another area that raises a series of difficult questions is the appropriateness of online education for younger students. The research of the effects of online courses on high school students, preschool, elementary school, and middle school students is very limited. I believe the needs and characteristics of younger learners are far different than that of adult learners, and because of this, we should exercise great caution in the use of the online environment to deliver instruction to pre teen and teen students.


Technology can be used to help remove the barriers of access, geography and economics to educational achievement for every young person. Today's challenge in implementing online education in a high school or higher education environment is to ensure that information technology strikes a balance between the quantity of educational opportunities andimproving the quality of those opportunities.As online education grows and evolves there is going to be a need to create a new form of judging quality. I believe that our current standards for the delivery of instruction have never accounted for these new communications tools. Standards and methods that have been carefully created to instruct students in a typical classroom situation cannot simply be placed into an online environment. When creating an online environment for high school students, one needs to provide a practical tool to help students, parents, educators, and policymakers create, use, and assess online courses. If federal, state, or local government attempt to create online high school programs they should have the knowledge and savvy in navigating the many online programs available and this knowledge must evolve as quickly as course offerings do. Policymakers must make wise decisions in deciding when and how to use online education.




Carnevale, D. (2006, May 12). Michigan Community Colleges expect more online high schools students. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 20, 2008, from


Carnevale, D. (2006, June 16). U. of Texas Develops High-School Distance-Ed Courses for Mexican Immigrants. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 20, 2008, from


Hurley, R. (2002). Fine-Tuning an Online High School to Benefit At-Risk Students. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 30(4), 33+. Retrieved July 25, 2008, from Questia database:


National Education Association, Retrieved July 20, 2008 from



Podoll, S., & Randle, D. (2005). Building a Virtual High School . Click by Click: South Dakota's Rapid City Academy Finds out Just What It Takes to Provide a Diverse Population of Students the Flexibility Offered by Online Learning. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), 33(2), 14+. Retrieved July 25, 2008, from Questia database:




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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Although I love the idea of technology for learning, I submit that High School is less about academics and more about maturing socially. This is the reason why i don't like the idea of online high school. I learned absolutely nothing academically from high school. Most people who get out of high school have the same level of education as someone who watched TV their entire life. However I did learn how to interact with people and how society works by watching people in high school. Many things never change such as politics and personal interactions. This is the most important part of high school. If you learn something else then thats great but at the very least you need to learn how society works and how to interact. You cannot offer than via the internet. By the way, I went on to get a Pre-med Bionengineering degree from UCSD and I retired a self made millionaire at age 32. My GPA in high school was about 2.8. I never opened a book. Just played basketball all day, but i did learn the difference between good people and bad people.

    • profile image

      Ged Testolino 

      8 years ago

      As long as the online high school degree program is accredited, you're good to go!

    • melbrown1 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Just the right place to find a schadenfreude


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