Required online classes have potential, but require careful planning from schools

The Virginia state governor Bob McDonald passed a law on Thursday, April 12 which will require freshmen during the 2013-2014 school year to take one online course to receive a high school diploma.  Similar requirement have been passed in several other states, including Alabama, Florida and Michigan.  McDonald claims that integrating online technology into education and making students more comfortable with gaining information online is important to prepare students for the “twenty-first century job market.”

The reasoning behind the law is admirable.  Online learning will help to prepare kids for an increasingly online world and a technology centered job market in the future.  Furthermore, it offers low-income students who may not have online access on a regular basis the ability to develop the skills they will need, helping to decrease economic disadvantages. 

However, the state will have to be careful how it conducts the requirement.  The course should not replace a teacher as the main object educating students in the core subjects; reading, writing and math skills are too crucial to be sacrificed to an experimental new kind of learning.  A physical presence with one on one time is crucial to answering student questions effectively and building student knowledge in core subjects.  The new courses should be elective subjects, perhaps which focus on computer skills. 

No student learns the same, just like each student is unique.  In the state of Virginia, there are very diverse methods of going through high school, from “honors,” Advanced Placement (AP), and International Baccalaureate programs (IB) to students with disabilities taking specialized classes.  The law is going to cause significant problems if it is not flexible enough to match the diversity of the students.   Mandating the class as a graduation requirement fails to consider the online classes will not be helpful or beneficial to all students.  Students with learning disabilities, attention disorders or those who just need closer observation will likely not be gaining a lot from taking an online course not carefully tailored to their circumstances.  IB students also stand to be negatively affected.  With all the IB requirements to receive an IB diploma, candidates have packed schedules with limited room for electives if at all.  Certainly these hard working students do not need additional requirements hindering their ability to succeed and graduate as they want.    

As most political issues do, there is also an economic aspect to the issue.  In Utah, where a similar law was first implemented, teacher salaries were decreased and the funding went to pay for online courses.  Offering more online classes will save Virginia public schools money, but at the cost of cutting salaries and jobs.  The economic climate of today means sacrifices must be made.  However, adding online classes does not seem to be the most efficient and beneficial way of saving money because of the scheduling, student behavior problems and questionable success it will result in.   

In conclusion, the state government and Fairfax County schools must be careful how they integrate the new requirement and must plan meticulously.  They must take into account the various circumstances students live in, and do their best to prevent rendering incoming freshmen unfortunate guinea pigs.