In New York Times, Memphis at center of debate over online classes

A story in Wednesday's editions of The New York Times about a rise in K-12 students taking online courses is framed by Memphis City Schools' online learning program. The Times calls MCS' program one of the most ambitious of its kind, with each student required to take an online course. However, online learning for pre-college students remains controversial.

Advocates of such courses say they allow schools to offer not only makeup courses, the fastest-growing area, but also a richer menu of electives and Advanced Placement classes when there are not enough students to fill a classroom.

But critics say online education is really driven by a desire to spend less on teachers and buildings, especially as state and local budget crises force deep cuts to education. They note that there is no sound research showing that online courses at the K-12 level are comparable to face-to-face learning.

The article also raises concerns about students plagiarizing their work in these online courses, in which teachers spend only 10 hours a week with perhaps 150 students. For their part, though, Memphis administrators are standing behind their online learning program:

But administrators insisted that their chief motive was to enhance student learning, not save money in a year when the 108,000-student district is braced for cuts of $100 million and hundreds of jobs.

"What the online environment does is continue to provide rich offerings and delivery systems to our students with these resource challenges," said Irving Hamer, the deputy superintendent.

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