The transition from middle to high school may be one of the toughest challenges of a lifetime--socially, academically and personally. That might explain why online 9th grade programs are expanding across the United States.
Online 9th Grade Schools
The transition from 8th grade to 9th grade is "one of the most pivotal moments in a student's education, and one of the most treacherous," according to Breakthrough Collaborative, a national nonprofit organization that helps high-potential, low-income middle school students aim for college. The organization also reports that 9th grade students are three to five times more likely to fail a course than students in other grades, and that 9th grade course failure is closely linked to high school graduation rates. As educational organizations explore ways to ease these challenges for 9th graders, online programs could be one promising solution.
Online 9th grade could ease growing pains, prepare for futures
A 2011 research brief from Project Tomorrow suggests that student interest in online learning is expanding. This national, nonprofit educational organization reports that more than 40 percent of the students it surveyed see online classes as a major part of the learning experience. In addition, three times as many high school students have access to online learning as did in 2007, and twice as many middle school students are now learning online.
High schoolers may reap the same benefits that e-learning can offer college students, such as customizable pacing, convenience and introduction to new technologies. The North American Council for Online Learning, a non-profit organization seeking equal educational opportunities for all students, highlights some potential advantages of online schooling:
- The student can become an "active and interactive" participant in the exchange of information
- Lecture time can be replaced with digital lessons that encourage autonomy and motivation
- Traditional lesson plans can be reworked to fit the distance learning environment
- Personalized programs allow individualized attention and support when needed
Online 9th grade programs curriculum
While 9th grade online programs vary from one state to the next with respect to organization and delivery, systems generally agree on the sets of essential skills in the core subjects. These essential skills serve as the foundation for depth and breadth of learning. Freshman math, science, social studies and language arts simultaneously reinforce prior knowledge while prepping students for advanced study topics, including step sequencing, the research process and learning how to learn.
Online 9th grade curriculum offers the flexibility to make room for the ebb and flow of new topics while activating the knowledge gained in previous grades. Online curriculum design can combine audio, video and assessment activities to promote understanding of the subject matter.
Essential 9th grade skills online programs may offer--or not
A report compiled by Learning Point Associates for the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory reveals the following skills and resources that are at the core of the distance learning curriculum:
- Technology awareness
- Information literacy
- Research and evaluation
- Digital content
- Networked applications
In online programs, the time that students spend in front of the computer may be considerable. Reading, writing and video lectures take up large chunks of time. Estimates place students spending about 50 percent of the average school day working on computer-based assignments.
As you might expect, online high schools are not without their criticisms. A 2010 U.S. Department of Education report found that while college students can benefit from online courses, there are too few rigorous studies to support policy maker claims that this delivery method benefits those in K-12. Detractors point out that many of the skills deemed "essential" for success in late high school and college levels--such as active listening, note taking and peer-to-peer interaction--are not adequately provided for in the distance learning format.
From PTA to support group: How parents of online schoolers back their kids
Parents of online 9th graders encourage their students' participation in several unique ways. Aside from the monetary commitment to cover technology hardware, software, and program tuition and expenses, parents take an active role in helping to augment interactive lessons with real world applications. Field trips, work visits and joint research periods encourage parent-student interaction in the learning process.
Making the jump from middle to high school without meltdown is not a given. Even accomplished teenagers can feel the pressure of increasing demands on their organizational practices and study habits. Online 9th grade programs just may offer a dynamic answer to this challenging transition.
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