Education News

Why High Schoolers Go Online For College-Level Classes In The Summer

It's a common refrain when school gets back in session. What did you do over the summer? Here in Houston some ambitious students are using these summer months to get ahead.

This summer Jennifer Li is teaching dance classes to little kids. She’s gone on a trip to California. And she’s getting a head start on her senior year at Bellaire High School.

She tells her friends …

“I just say, ‘Oh I’m just going to take physics online, get it over with.’ And they think I’m crazy.”

It may sound crazy. But it makes sense to Jennifer and her parents.

“I just really wanted to take an extra AP class. I felt like I needed it. Like, at Bellaire it’s really, really highly competitive, especially in terms of grade point averages. And my parents felt like I needed an extra boost there.”

It’s an Advanced Placement, or AP, class.

Last summer Jennifer did the same thing in psychology. Now she’s taking physics.

So here she is at Starbucks in Meyerland. She logs onto on her laptop and watches a video.

“Average speed is equal to distance traveled divided by elapsed time.”

Last year, more than 200,000 students in Texas took AP classes.

But more students like Jennifer are going online for these classes, says Statha Cherry.

Cherry is with the Bridge School in Houston. It’s an online school with different programs, including more than a dozen AP classes.

“World History, World Geography, Art History — those are the most popular AP classes.”

Each one costs just under $500 dollars.

Cherry says the classes online are just as tough as AP classes in a regular school.

In fact, the nonprofit the College Board audits all courses with the “AP” label to guarantee quality.

“The online program still offers a very structured, very advanced curriculum for students. But it differs from the brick and mortar school in that the students have the flexibility of doing it in their own time.”

Even as more students are taking classes online, it’s hard to compare their experience with the traditional kind.

Patte Barth studied the issue last year for the National School Boards Association.

“The big finding was that there’s not a lot of data and research about it.”

She did find that online students from kindergarten to 12th grade do about as well or worse online as in a regular class.

But college students tend to do better online. The same goes for AP students in high school.

Her takeaway: Maturity matters when students study online.

“If you lack the maturity and the discipline to make sure you are keeping up with the work and logging in, you are not likely to do as well.”

She says good study habits go a long way.


Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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