“At Risk” students and online learning

When I developed my dissertation, I was curious about if online courses or online schools made a difference in the learning of “at risk” students.  I had read various articles here and reports that suggested online learning was allowing many “at risk” students to now earn a high school diploma where they had not before.  In addition, I was concerned (and continue to be) that across the U.S. there are 30% of students who are not graduating from high school with a diploma.

I set out to study “at risk” students – students who were at risk of dropping out of high school – at one online high school in California.  My original design was to look at students who may have had poor grades in a traditional high school but then transferred to an online high school to see if they, indeed, were now doing better.  Unfortunately, I found that there were not enough students who remained in one online high school long enough to use longitudinal data such as test scores and/or grades to determine if they were more successful or not.  This is true for all online charter schools across the U.S. and in California.  Overall, there were just 14 online charter schools (list here) that operated at the high school level in California in 2008-09 and of those, just 4 had enrollments of 200 or more high school students.  That is when I shifted my focus to comparing online charter school students with a sampling of traditional school students in California.

The lesson here is that it is very difficult to study “at risk” students to determine what helps them to be successful.  Various researchers have done a great job of identifying the characteristics of students who are in danger of dropping out of high school and ongoing data collection shows that between 25-30% of high school students do not finish high school depending on the year.  The only real research currently available that shows that online learning may have an effect with “at risk” students are anecdotal evidence, case studies and various organization-generated reports. 

What we do know is that:

  • a) Many students and families are not happy with traditional schooling
  • b) Students get pushed out of traditional schools in a variety of ways including suspension, failing grades, disengagement or disillusionment (boredom).
  • c) The determining factor in whether a student stays engaged in high school, regardless of the type, are the relationships he/she has with adults in that school.
  • d) More students are leaving traditional schools and moving to online schools each year.

References:

Rob Darrow’s Wiki:  http://robsdoc.wikispaces.com/

Watson & Gemin (2008 ). Promising Practices: Using online learning for at risk student and credit recoverys http://www.inacol.org/research/promisingpractices/NACOL_CreditRecovery_PromisingPractices.pdf

Barbour, M. (2011).  Blog Post about At Risk Students and Research:  http://bit.ly/gnEonE

Cervantes, L. F. (1965). The dropout: Causes and cures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hammond, C. (2007).  Dropout risk factors and exemplary programs. Clemson, SC: Clemson University.

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