Online education is nothing new for colleges and universities, but it is just beginning to blossom for K-12 schools. Here in West Virginia, some school districts have experimented with it.
Critics, including some at the U.S. Department of Education, warn reliance on "virtual classrooms" carries risks.
One DOE study last year found students taking classes via the Internet had lower test scores than those who went to schools where they had face-to-face interaction with teachers and other students. Dropout rates were higher and class sizes in some cases were so big as to preclude much individualized attention for students, the DOE concluded.
One online class examined by the department had more than 300 students, obviously too big to be serving individuals well.
Still, about 200,000 K-12 students in 40 states are working online toward their diplomas. In some states, "virtual classrooms" have been a godsend to students and school districts.
Clearly, West Virginia school districts should move cautiously on the issue.
But just as obviously, online classes have advantages, such as offering courses many schools may not be able to afford. They can provide access to advanced classes, such as those in sciences and foreign languages, some schools simply could not offer otherwise.
That alone makes the idea worth careful investigation and trial here in West Virginia.