The Promise of Online Education

Although we like to think of school as a true public good (non-rival and non-excludable), research shows that  school is actually more like a toll good (non-rival and excludable) because socio-economic or residency issues prevent many students from having a true choice in where they go to school.

A new study by Jonathan Rauh examines the potential of online learning as a solution to the “excludability” problem. Rauh studied how at risk kids interacted with the South Carolina Virtual School Program. The verdict? Meh.

Even in a state where every high school has access to technology and is wired for Internet access, high poverty students are excluded, or exclude themselves, from taking online classes. The findings indicate that students in high poverty districts can be broadly categorized as underperforming in online courses in relation to their counterparts from low to median poverty districts. This relationship is categorized as “broad” because the sample of students who actually completed a course was signicantly different than those who enrolled for a course.

The results aren’t terribly surprising, but they’re another reminder that there is a lot of work left to be done before online learning truly begins to transform the way children learn.


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