We need a background check

An article in the July 6th Washington Post, “Md. School Joins Test of Online Courses Tailored to Girls,” in my opinion, highlights two common traits of education. Educators tirelessly create new ways to improve students’ learning. But often, they don’t have the background to know why what they do succeeds or fails.

The article describes the “Online School for Girls,” an Internet consortium that is based on the belief that girls can benefit from online courses tailored just to them. Those behind the project cite benefits from single-sex schooling and assert that girls use technology differently from boys.

The problem is that little research has been done on single-sex education’s benefits. And, as the article points out, those involved don’t know if the benefits claimed for single-sex education – a collaborative, connected environment, free from gender stereotypes – will translate to one girl sitting in front of the computer. “They can’t find anyone who has done anything similar,” the article says.

That’s the promise—and the peril. The article states that the consortium wants “to prove that single-sex online education works.” Hopefully, they know how to define and measure that success – and they’ll share the results with us.

In the meantime, here at the Center, we do know the qualities that help students succeed in online courses. They’re personal, not technological: good organizational skills, strong parent involvement, self-motivation and responsibility. If you want to learn more, read the section on distance learning in our full report on school organization. –Rebecca St. Andrie

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