The pilot program began with remedial classes.

About two weeks into San Jose State’s online education experiment at an Oakland charter school, it became clear that something was wrong. Some of the students in the college’s for-credit math courses weren’t even logging on.

“I get this call from San Jose State: ‘Uh, we have a problem,'” recalled Mark Ryan, superintendent of the Oakland Military Institute, a public school set up on a military model.

It turned out some of the low-income teens didn’t have computers and high-speed internet connections at home that the online course required. Many needed personal attention to make it through. The final results aren’t in yet, but the experiment exposed some challenges to the promise of a low-cost online education.

And it showed there is still a divide between technology-driven educators and the low-income, first-generation college hopefuls they are trying to reach.

To make it work, the institute had to issue laptops to students, set aside class time for them to focus on the online course, and assign teachers to make sure they stayed on task.

“Without having a class period to do it, I wouldn’t have done as well,” said Ciara Lowry, a junior at the Oakland Military Institute who passed the college statistics course.


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