You are on page 1of 3


Underline important points, Circle things you do not
understand, Write notes in the left margin, write a
Question at the top and a Summary at the end.
In Florida, Virtual Classrooms With No Teachers
By LAURA HERRERA, New York Times
Published: January 17, 2011

MIAMI — On the first day of her senior year at North Miami Beach Senior High
School, Naomi Baptiste expected to be greeted by a teacher when she walked
into her precalculus class.

“All there were computers in the class,” said Naomi, who walked into a room of
confused students. “We found out that over the summer they signed us up for
these courses.”

Naomi is one of over 7,000 students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools

enrolled in a program in which core
subjects are taken using computers in
a classroom with no teacher. A
“facilitator” is in the room to make
sure students progress. That person
also deals with any technical problems.

These virtual classrooms, called e-

learning labs, were put in place last
August as a result of Florida’s Class
Size Reduction Amendment, passed in
2002. The amendment limits the
number of students allowed in
classrooms, but not in virtual labs.

While most schools held an orientation about the program, some students and
parents said they were not informed of the new class structure. Others said they
were not given the option to choose whether they wanted this type of
instruction, and they voiced concern over the program’s effectiveness.

The online courses are provided by Florida Virtual School, which has been an
option in the state’s public schools. The virtual school has provided online
classes for home-schooled and traditional students who want to take extra
courses. Students log on to a Web site to gain access to lessons, which consist
mostly of text with some graphics, and they can call, e-mail or text online
instructors for help.

The 54 participating schools in the Miami-Dade County system’s e-learning lab

program integrate the online classes differently. A representative from the
district said in an e-mail that the system “provided lab facilitators, training for
those facilitators and coordination” between the district schools and the virtual

Theresa Sutter, a member of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Miami

Beach Senior High School, said she thought her daughter, Kelly, was done with
virtual classes after she finished Spanish the previous year at home.

When Kelly said that she had been placed in a virtual lab, Ms. Sutter recalled her
“jaws dropped.” Neither of them had been told that Kelly would be in one.

“It’s totally different from what classroom teaching is like, so it’s a completely
different animal,” Ms. Sutter said.

Under the state’s class-reduction amendment, high school classrooms cannot

surpass a 25-student limit in core subjects, like English or math. Fourth- through
eighth-grade classrooms can have no more than 22 students, and
prekindergarten through third grade can have no more than 18.

Alix Braun, 15, a sophomore at Miami Beach High, takes Advanced Placement
macroeconomics in an e-learning lab with 35 to 40 other students. There are 445
students enrolled in the online courses at her school, and while Alix chose to be
placed in the lab, she said most of her lab mates did not.

“None of them want to be there,” Alix said, “and for virtual education you have
to be really self-motivated. This was not something they chose to do, and it’s a
really bad situation to be put in because it is not your choice.”

School administrators said that they had to find a way to meet class-size limits.
Jodi Robins, the assistant principal of curriculum at Miami Beach High, said that
even if students struggled in certain subjects, the virtual labs were necessary
because “there’s no way to beat the class-size mandate without it.”

In response to parental confusion about virtual classes, the Miami Beach High
parent-teacher association created a committee on virtual labs. The panel works
with the school toward “getting issues on the table and working proactively,”
said Patricia Kaine, the association’s president.

Some teachers are skeptical of how well the program can help students learn.

“The way our state is dealing with class size is nearly criminal,” said Chris
Kirchner, an English teacher at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami. “They’re
standardizing in the worst possible way, which is evident in virtual classes.”

While Ms. Kirchner questions the instructional effectiveness of online courses,

she said there was a place for them at some level.

“I think there should be learning on the computer,” Ms. Kirchner said. “That part
is from 2:30 p.m. on. The first part of the day should be for learning with people.”

But Michael G. Moore, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University,

said programs that combine virtual education and face-to-face instruction could
be effective. This is called the “blended learning concept.”

“There is no doubt that blended learning can be as effective and often more
effective than a classroom,” said Mr. Moore, who is also editor of The American
Journal of Distance Education. He said, however, that research and his
experiences had shown that proper design and teacher instruction within the
classroom were necessary. A facilitator who only monitors student progress and
technical issues within virtual labs would not be categorized as part of a blended-
learning model, he said. Other variables include “the maturity and sophistication
of the student,” he said.

Despite some complaints about the virtual teaching method, administrators said
e-learning labs were here to stay. And nationally, blending learning has already
caught on in some areas.

In Chicago Public Schools, high schools have “credit recovery” programs that let
students take online classes they previously failed so they can graduate. Omaha
Public Schools also have similar programs that require physical attendance at
certain locations.

Julie Durrance, manager of the e-learning lab program, said the virtual school
planned to work more closely with district schools to ensure success. She said
virtual school officials wanted orientations to be mandatory in schools with labs.
Ms. Durrance also predicted that labs would expand to middle schools and would
include more grade levels in schools that currently limited the labs to juniors and

There are six middle and K-8 schools using virtual labs in Miami, including Cutler
Ridge Middle School and Frank C. Martin K-8 Center.

“I truly believe this will be an option for many districts across the state,” Ms.
Durrance said. “I think we just hit the tip of the iceberg.”