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Online Learning


Pennsylvania Online Schools Struggle Amid Bad Economy

Innovative technology and better access have had online school enrollments going strong for the past 10 years, but the recent slump in the economy may be painting a different picture in Pennsylvania’s cyberschools.

Some of the state’s 11 online charter schools could be the latest victims of the recession, officials say. Joe Lyons, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School in Norristown, says parents facing the threat of layoffs or mortgage foreclosures are sending their children back to brick-and-mortar public schools because the stay-at-home spouse has to get a job.

Most Pennsylvania online charter schools require a parent to stay home and supervise an elementary-age student, serving in many cases as an academic coach.

“Our younger grades are most affected, because what we are hearing from parents is that they have to go back to work partor full-time because of the economy,” Sarah McCluan, spokeswoman for Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which operates PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School in Homestead, Pa., recently told the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review.

But a survey during the 2007-2008 school year of district administrators by the Sloan Consortium, an online education advocacy group, showed a 10 percent increase nationwide in district offerings of fully online or blended courses from the 2005-2006 year.

The total number of K12 students engaged in online courses—either full- or part-time—is about 1,030,000, almost a 50 percent increase from 2005-2006, the Sloan report says.

Fred Miller, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, says they have seen an increase of more than 130 students for the current school year, but he acknowledges that enrollment trends statewide may indeed be “leveling off .”

“We’re not sure if it’s because of the economy,” he says, or because of an increasing student turnover rate. He also says that more districts are offering their own cybercourses.

“The trend we’ve seen nationwide now for the past decade is that online schooling is continuing to grow,” says Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K12 Online Learning. Even today, she explains, “student demand remains very high.”


The Online Perfect Storm

Few would deny the role Web 2.0 technologies play in the lives of youth, but social learning network provider Saywire is doing one better in arguing that such technologies are not only important but vital for students’ academic growth.

In a new report just released by the new startup, “Connections for Learning: Schools and the Educational Use of Social Networking,” Saywire argues that the “social web” is one of the best ways for today’s digital natives to learn by practicing skills necessary for college, work and life as global citizens.

The report describes a “perfect storm” of conditions forming which dictate that “every educational institution should begin using social networking tools in considered and systematic ways.”

Saywire boasts more than 160,000 teachers and students registered to its private social networks for K20 schools, which solve concerns about safety and security while giving students and educators the freedom to learn together.