The Cyberschool Challenge
With few electronic textbooks to choose from, cyberschools are forging ahead with efforts to develop their own courseware. Traditional textbook publishers stand to lose.
New book markets are emerging on the Internet that don't require readers 18 and older. Among them: education. The explosion of 'cyberschools' (also known as 'e-schools') is revolutionizing how educational materials are manufactured and distributed.
Cyberschools have been growing in size and scope since they first appeared in the late 1990s. The Distance Learning Resource Network, a non-profit agency dedicated to improving education, pegs the number of students in online classrooms between 40,000 and 50,000 for the 2002-03 school year.
Florida might have had trouble getting presidential election votes tallied due to its archaic manual system, but it has been nothing less than a pioneer with online schools. The Florida Virtual School (FVS) network has 13,000 students enrolled for the 2002-03 year, making it one of the largest electronic school districts in the U.S.
Unlike the home schooling movement, an outgrowth of parents' objections over school curriculums, online schools are evolutionary, not revolutionary. They provide many sound reasons for kids to attend online classes, and a good number are home schoolers. The reasons usually cited by parents: flexibility, and universal accessibility to courses.
For starters, cyberschools provide ready access to a broad selection of courses, the scope of which is simply not available in most schools. A school district in one well-to-do town might have a dozen advanced placement courses—the kind college admissions officers like to see—while schools across town might have only one or two.
And kids combating illnesses or disabilities often can't regularly attend a traditional school, if at all. Cyberschools provide a fantastic alternative, enabling these physically disadvantaged students to keep up with their peers through online classes, as their schedules permit.