Schools slow to adopt online courses, even as state agencies approve them

Students tell board they'll have to drop advanced placement classes to take basic Office courses in person.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

The lack of online options for tech ed classes required by the Maryland Department of Education for graduation is "just crazy," one student told the department recently and others provided further evidence of how slow-moving boards of education are hurting their educational options.

In a hearing at a local school board last week, the Gazette newspaper reports, junior Carla Driscoll told the board:

‘‘I haven’t yet taken a tech ed class because to do that, I’d have to drop orchestra, AP Spanish, photography 4 or AP chemistry just to take a class in Word and Excel,” Driscoll, a junior at the Bethesda school, told the county school board last week. ‘‘That’s just crazy, especially because for over a year, I’ve had good reason to believe that MCPS would develop an online tech ed course.”

Katherine Hillenbrand, a junior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, told the school board that in order to take a technology class, ‘‘I would have to drop either AP Spanish or AP studio art. Next year, I may have to give up the chance for an internship that will prepare me for college and even a career to get this one credit if the online class is not offered.”

All the more crazy since no course could be better suited for online education than a software course. In fact, the state Dept. of Ed. already approves online courses for Office, as well as two dozen other courses. But school boards are overly cautious about making them available to students.

One legitimate concern is equity.

The courses are expensive. Online health education, a half-credit course offered only in the summer, cost $365 this year. The school system is working to reduce that price, which covers the computer server, content and teacher costs, to $300. The one-credit tech education course would cost $600.

In addition, with some low-income students already trailing their wealthier peers in academic performance, administrators want to be careful not want to create a technology gap for those who cannot afford the course or do not have Internet access at home.

‘‘The equity is a concern, and it’s one of the reasons we haven’t moved forward on this,” said Carol Blum, the school system’s director of high school instruction.

But of course, schools can offer financial aid for low-income students and local libraries and schools themselves can offer computers and Internet access to those who don't have high-speed access at home.

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