EIGHT-YEAR-OLD Julia Ratten and her brother Jack, who is 7, won’t be going back to their local school this month. After the school district in Beaverton, Oregon, announced its latest round of budget cuts, teacher lay-offs and increases in class sizes, Jack and Julia’s parents decided to enrol them in the state’s full-time online school, Oregon Connections Academy.
“I thought it was weird to send your kids to online school,” says their mother, Kristin. But facing class sizes of more than 30, she says she and her husband Jason saw little to lose in trying something different.
As schools around the US come back from their summer break, the Rattens are one of a small but rapidly growing number of families who are turning to the internet as an alternative to chronically under-resourced brick and mortar institutions.
Proponents say online primary and secondary education, whether full-time or as part of a “blended” programme of online and face-to-face education, could usher in a new era of personalising education that will give each child the best chance of success.
Critics argue that there is little evidence online learning is effective. But as state-run schools, for-profit schools and even free alternatives such as video lessons set up shop online, more and more US students are ditching the traditional classroom.