So, when a kid fails a whole year of a subject in high school, s/he repeats that class the next year, doubling up on English II and III. That’s all well and good except when the subject is math. Texas students need 4 years of mathematics, through Algebra II, if they are not on the minimum graduation plan. Failing geometry as a sophomore means retaking it as a junior and being in danger of not graduating as a senior unless summer school is an option.
In Cy-FairISD, summer school tuition is $175 for a semester class and $350 for a whole year. In HISD, it’s $200 per course. There are scholarships available for families in need.
So, the high school student I tutor needs a full year of Math Models if s/he’s going to have a shot at graduating on time. Taking two math classes simultaneously induced panic in the child — hence summer school as an option. Even with one parent unemployed and the other financially strapped, the family scraped together the money. The problem? The class wasn’t offered anywhere near the student’s home, and parents couldn’t drive him/her on a daily basis.
PVAMU’s own Dr. Laurette Foster pointed me in a different direction, and I passed along the information. Texas Tech University Independent School District offers both print and online coursework, as well as CBE (credit-by-exam), for K-12. A similar program exists at the University of Texas at Austin through its K-16 Education Center.
The family chose Texas Tech. At $155 per semester credit for a high school class, it was slightly more affordable than their home district, CFISD. Students have up to 180 days to complete a class, which is great for kids who just can’t keep up in a typical 16-week course.
One drawback that I’ve seen is that students who really aren’t motivated or who lack a good support system may be lost. In Math Models I, at least, students get a few important tips, such as key equations, along with practice problems to complete. Then there are 6 major problem sets to submit and a high-stakes final exam that must be proctored in person by the school guidance counselor for my student to get credit. There aren’t the typical small, low-stakes assignments, or any extra credit, or any “we’ll drop your lowest grade” deal. In Math Models, there aren’t any video tutorials working through problems, which could be really helpful.
I’m watching a teenager go straight to the problem sets without reading any of the lectures or trying the practice questions. With a major math phobia, s/he is lost and frustrated. It’s taking the whole summer to complete the 1/2 credit, while regular summer school would be wrapping up the second semester.
From my limited experience, I think that parents and students should ask themselves some very hard questions before considering online summer school classes:
- Is this the only option, due to cost and transportation? Remember that you will have to purchase the textbook yourself when determining how much money it will take.
- Did your child just barely fail a class and needs to retake it? A CBE might be a good option, where the student just takes a final exam to prove mastery of a subject in which she already has received instruction.
- If the class is a for-the-first-time situation, how comfortable is your child with the subject?
- How comfortable are you with the subject? You’re going to be a teacher, tutor, and cheerleader in this endeavor.
- Is your child self-motivated?
I think that online high school summer classes might be a fabulous option for those kids trying to get ahead and graduate early. They probably work well for students whose parents have several hours every week to sit down and work through the assignments or who have tutors to help them out. These classes seem like a great fit for home-schooled students, especially ones who work in small groups and have study partners already.
We hear more and more that online education isn’t just here to stay; it’s the future. If that’s the case, instructors need to put forth extra effort to make sure that the virtual experience reaches students on many levels so there’s a good chance for success. Today’s online classes can’t just be web-based correspondence courses (in the 1800s, students would get an assignment, mail it to the professor for grading, and then get the next assignment and so on). They should take advantage of the video, audio, multimedia, and interactive tools available. Otherwise, I fear, we’re going to leave a lot of students behind.