As more and more South Carolina students opt for online classes instead of traditional classrooms, the state's seven virtual schools say brick-and-mortar schools are dumping many of their most at-risk students on them.
"We have seen a gradual increase in that, particularly in the last two years," says Dr. Cherry Daniel, principal of the South Carolina Virtual Charter School. "And it does concern us. By the time we get the paperwork in and see where the child's been expelled, the child's already enrolled in our school."
Dana Reed, director of compliance for the South Carolina Public Charter School District, which oversees the state's online schools, says, "Parents are reporting that teachers, guidance counselors, principals, in some cases higher-level administrators are saying, 'Do this and we won't pursue expulsion.' And we are certainly not happy about that practice."
That's because at-risk students are typically not a good fit for online schools, which require students to be disciplined and self-motivated enough to do the coursework on their own. "They have to have that, and they have to have that consistency and continuity," Dr. Daniel says. "And many expelled students, they have behavior issues. They have truant issues, and so they don't possess those qualities that we're looking for that makes a virtual student successful in our environment."
She and Reed say part of the problem is that teachers and counselors at traditional schools may not understand what it takes to do well in an online school. For example, a student may be getting expelled for missing or being late for too many classes, so the school recommends an online school where the class times are more flexible. But even though the times for doing the work are more flexible, students still have attendance requirements for online classes.
Reed says, "I would just stress that anyone that's considering making that recommendation to a child or parent of a child, or if a parent is considering this option, that they look long and hard at the attendance requirements, what's going to be required of them in terms of technology and home support, and whether their child is what you would consider an independent learner, or at least could adapt to that kind of learning."
Dr. Daniel says having so many at-risk students who end up dropping out is hurting the on-time graduation rates for the state's online schools. While the on-time graduation rate for the state's traditional public schools is 73 percent, the rate for the online schools in the state range from 10 percent to 35 percent.
Those lower rates have led to the online schools getting lower ratings than they might otherwise.
"I think that criteria needs to be changed, some other fashion for our virtual environment," Dr. Daniel says. "I do think that we need to have criteria. We have got to be accountable. We're very sensitive to that. But I think that that particular criteria's got to change because it's a different environment. You're comparing apples and oranges, and you can't use the same evaluation and accountability tools."
She thinks the online schools need to communicate to brick-and-mortar schools what's required to do well as an online student, as well as the fact that online schools have to meet the same state curriculum standards, so the classes are not easier.
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