Recent statements by Mountain View High School's principal questioning the value of online courses have highlighted tensions building around the trend of taking classes in the cloud.
Principal Dave Grissom said he only had his students' best interests in mind when he told a reporter from the school's student-run paper, the Oracle, that he was "opposed to online courses, (because) they can be completed too quickly and do not represent the same quality provided by standard courses."
The quote appeared in an article titled "Online classes policy clarified." In the piece, the author wrote that Mountain View High School would be adopting a "new policy regarding the enrollment in classes off-campus."
According to Grissom and district Superintendent Barry Groves, "policy" isn't exactly the right word, since no official school policy is being changed or laid down in writing.
Grissom said he and other administrators at the high school simply want to ensure that those students who choose to take online courses are taking them for the right reasons -- and not simply in the hopes of lightening their workload.
Still, Grissom's comments gave one local woman pause. The woman, who asked that her name not be used for fear her comments could lead to reprisals from the school district, said she worried that Grissom's ideas about online courses might end up "making it harder to graduate for kids who aren't on a college track" or have fallen behind in their studies. By way of example, the woman continued, "English is a course that if you mess up one semester, you're already behind."
In response to the criticism, Grissom said he would never actively work to prevent someone from taking a class online if there were a compelling reason for that student to do so.
"Some students have tried to get out of civics or economics classes (by taking the course online) to create a hole in their schedule," Grissom said. "I don't know that that would be the reason why I would want a kid to take an online class."
Grissom added that he is particularly concerned that some online courses "do not offer the rigor that we do" at MVHS. A good reason for a student to take an online class, according to Grissom, would be if that student wanted to pack more extracurricular activities into his or her schedule, or because the student needed to make up for poor grades in the past.
Brigitte Saraff, associate superintendent of educational services for the high school district, seconded Grissom's concerns about the rigor and quality of certain online courses. "There's a lot of confusion out there" surrounding online courses, she said, adding that the school district always wants to make sure it gets things right.
"I think online education is the wave of the future," Saraff said, but added, "I think we're going about implementing it very gingerly."
That's because there are many online courses that have not been vetted thoroughly, Saraff said. "Whenever there is an opportunity for money to be made, there are a lot of people who jump into the fray." As a result, some online courses are not that great.
"I am not trying to eliminate online options," Grissom said. "Our district values the ability for students to have choice."
He added this caveat: "We are looking at every case, with every kid, individually."