As the school year approaches a commercial for Connections Academy has been getting a lot of air play. What I have noticed of course is that all of the students being used as "props" are either white or Asian and all apparently middle or upper class. Freed of drama, exposed to the innovation available on the internet, these students have been liberated from the tribulations inherent in a high school community.
Personally, I am not big fan of cyber schools, but my own feelings really aren't important. The issue is whether these "schools" can produce value for inner city students, and my gut feeling is yes. Aspiring inner city students face innumerable roadblocks on their path to graduation and then college or a trade. I spent a split second contemplating whether these schools should be utilized to get "trouble" students out of school, but then I realized that these students might not fully avail themselves of the opportunity these schools provide and that they may not have the family support to succeed, and, most importantly. But on the other hand research into "disruptive" students suggests that the reasons for their behavior are complex, and that many such students are disruptive because they have been turned off to school and are in fact academically strong once you scrape away the exterior.
There are many variables working against aspiring students, and high among the list are cultural and peer pressures devaluing academic achievement. To learn more about this I recommend everyone read "Code of the Streets," a 1994 Atlantic essay by Professor Elijah Anderson; he wrote this while at Penn but I believe is now at Yale.
With so many factors working against certain individual students, I do believe that cyber school might be a valuable remedy. The main issue is of course cost. Many inner city families do not own their residence and thus do not have the collateral to support a home loan to pay for the needed resources. Since it is incumbent on stakeholders in the business, non-profit, and philanthropic communities to support inner city education by helping provide difficult to attain role models and resources, creating a fund to underwrite the cost of a cyber education would be a wonderful undertaking. Broadening the community of cyber students into the inner city might also lead to a new class of entrepreneurial educators providing tutoring and mentoring to these students.
Having a new "class" of cyber students would also provide relief to classroom teachers that are overwhelmed with large classes and substandard resources, and give students greater opportunity to succeed.
Cyber schools are an option that I believe must be extended to the inner city. It would be a "project" requiring enormous organization and financial support, but as I've pointed out time and again in this blog, our inner city schools are failing. Graduation rates of 50% are simply unacceptable. If our political leaders and stakeholders truly care about the future of our cities, then they must at least explore this option.