Online classes aren’t just for the higher education crowd; an increasing number of high school students are taking courses online, and in Alabama, online education will become mandatory next year. Starting in the 2009-10 school year, Alabama high school students will be required to take at least one distance learning course in order to graduate. (Michigan already has such a requirement.) The mandate grew out of the popularity of online classes with students in small schools that don’t offer the classes that students want to take, and with Alabama typically ranking in the lower tier of state educational rankings, any option to improve the resources available to students seems like a good idea. In Alabama’s case, the classes are free and take place after normal school hours. Students can work from home, but tests must be overseen by facilitators in school.
Nationwide, online options for high school students are booming, with a number of online-only high schools, such as Primavera and the Florida Virtual School. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 309,630 high school students were enrolled in online courses in 2004-05 (time to update that study, guys), but judging from the 16-state Southern Regional Education Board‘s estimate of 200,000 online students, the national number is likely over 600,000. Online high school classes cater not only to students looking to take classes beyond what their schools offer, but also to home-schooled students, students whose schedules don’t allow them to take the in-person classes they need, and gifted students who need to study at a faster pace than others.
These gifted high school students are even taking college classes online in order to get a feel of higher education coursework and, more importantly, to gain college credit. Even a prestigious university like Stanford has jumped on the bandwagon, founding the Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) Online High School, no doubt discerning the opportunity to recruit gifted students (and to get their parents to pony up $13,000 a year in tuition).