In a surprise move, the board of directors of the Akron Digital Academy voted 4-1 last week to shut down the online school after this school year. The decision will force about 580 students to seek enrollment elsewhere. For the students and their families, the closure will represent a major disruption. A drastic step, the board decision raises the issue of what other interventions it could reasonably adopt to address the problems it sees.
Among the reasons cited for pulling the plug is poor academic performance. For the past four years, the digital academy has been in Academic Watch, next to the lowest rating on the state report card. Disappointing, yes; and a governing board would be failing in its obligation if it turned a blind eye to subpar performance. Still, the academy isn’t the only low-performing school hereabouts, public and charter. The board also has financial concerns about the elementary grades, which enroll roughly 50 students and are subsidized, in effect, by enrollment in the high school.
A major appeal of online schools is their flexibility, enabling students and families to match educational needs with their special circumstances. That strength also presents a challenge to the administrative and teaching staff to be nimble, monitoring especially closely the quality of the online product and adjusting rapidly to stay ahead of increasing competition in digital education. Part of the complaint of the academy’s board is that the academy has not made enough improvements to raise performance or be competitive with other growing online programs in Ohio, for example, The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.
The vote to close is a reminder once again that there are no simple remedies for the challenge confronting all schools to meet the broad diversity of student needs. As reactions to the proposed closure indicate, many parents have found the academy a good fit for their students. The school’s annual report in November noted 80 percent of students starting their senior year graduate. Rather than pulling the plug, the vote should serve as the notice the administrative and teaching staff need to start accelerating a turnaround of operations and academic performance.