Giving Compass' Take:

• In Mississippi, some school districts are experiencing extreme teacher shortages forcing schools to resort to online education programs that are lacking. 

• What are the benefits of online education when done well? How can schools that rely on computers grow their online programs without sufficient funding?

• Here are some ways to improve online education. 

On most afternoons, Jeremiah Smith, founder of an afterschool and summer program called the Rosedale Freedom Project, can be found sitting side-by-side with his students as they peer at laptops, trying to get through their assignments. Posters with uplifting quotes by Henry David Thoreau, Maya Angelou and Mahatma Gandhi decorate the room, but sometimes those positive messages aren’t enough: Smith can spot the exact moment when his students begin to despair.

“There’s just this moment where you’ve asked enough questions that the student has no idea how to answer and gotten enough blank stares that there’s just defeat. Defeat hangs in the room,” said Smith.

Smith can also pinpoint one of the main reasons for his students’ frustration: “The problem is the program.”

The program he’s referring to is an online learning platform, Edgenuity. An increasing number of school districts, including West Bolivar, have turned to Edgenuity and programs like it as they face a critical shortage of certified teachers.

In the West Bolivar Consolidated school district, 22 percent of teachers weren’t properly certified last year, about 27 out of 124 total. West Bolivar High School had only four certified teachers.

That’s why West Bolivar adopted Edgenuity, said district superintendent Beverly Culley, who began the job last year.

She knew recruiting would be difficult in the ways that it’s typically difficult in the Delta: Her schools are located in isolated rural communities with high levels of poverty, and the pay is low. When she realized that only two of West Bolivar High’s four certified teachers were certified in core subject areas, she said she was shocked.

In classes that rely on Edgenuity, a “facilitator,” who may or may not have knowledge of the content being taught through the program, oversees classes.

Read the full article about online education by Allyah Wright and Kelsey Davis at The Hechinger Report