Nightly News | November 27, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: Back now with our Education Nation report and the growing number of schools across the country that are offering, some even requiring online classes for middle and high school students. In fact, some of these public schools exist completely online. We get our report tonight from our chief education correspondent Rehema Ellis .
REHEMA ELLIS reporting: It's time for school for Allison Schnacke .
Ms. ALLISON SCHNACKE: I wake up at eight, I eat breakfast. I go onto my school.
ELLIS: But for Allison class is right at home.
Ms. SCHNACKE: In the kitchen, on the table, in my room.
ELLIS: She and her brother Noah are enrolled full-time in the Florida Virtual School , an Internet-based public school . Virtual schools are expanding quickly for students from kindergarten to 12th grade, allowing them to take some or all f their classes from home.
Mr. JASON TORRES (Online Teacher): You can try unit one.
ELLIS: Online instructors can answer questions by email, phone, even video conference.
Mr. TORRES: It's providing them skills that they're going to need; time management and consistency in your work, communication with instructors.
ELLIS: And just like a student, some teachers do it right from home. Nationwide, 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools, up 40 percent in the last three years. Thirty states offer a full-time online education to at least some students. Advocates say this technology is one way cash-strapped districts can save money. Variety and flexibility are also major draws.
Ms. JULIE YOUNG (Florida Virtual School): We don't believe that virtual schools are going to replace public schools . We believe they're going to change them.
ELLIS: Still, some question the effectiveness of online learning , saying more research needs to be done. Though programs do include teacher and student interaction, critics argue school is about more than just completing a lesson.
Mr. JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN (New York University): Schools historically in this country have existed not simply to teach people to read or to count, but also to teach them how to be citizens.
ELLIS: For the Schnackes , the ability to juggle school work around their busy schedules is part of the allure and the challenge.
Mr. NOAH SCHNACKE: You have to push yourself a lot harder because no one's here saying, 'You got to do it' and jamming it down your throat.
ELLIS: A new way of teaching and learning, redefining just what it means to go to school. Rehema Ellis, NBC News, New York.