At Connections Academy, our instructional staff rates each course on the amount of Teaching Effort it requires (in terms of direct instruction, intervention, and mediation) and how much Grading Effort it requires (in terms of what the teacher must grade directly, versus what they technology can grade), using a scale of 0 (least effort) to 3 (greatest effort). The result is a unique score for each course that tells the principals of our affiliated virtual schools how to staff it.

For example, our seventh-grade Art elective guides students through engaging, media-rich art appreciation and art practice activities, with interactive quizzes and electronic portfolio submissions. It is rated 0 on Teaching Effort, because it typically requires little live direct instruction and few intensive interventions, and it’s rated 1 on Grading Effort, because only the portfolio submissions require teacher grading. With an OLE of 1, this course might be staffed at 50 students per teacher. Compare that to AP Calculus, which is rated 2 on both Teaching and Grading Efforts, for an OLE of 4 and a recommended student-to-teacher ratio more like 15 to 1. This variable staffing ensures that each teacher has the time she or he needs to do the job well, while their school can make the very most of its resources.

The results speak for themselves: Connections Academy schools typically outperform the state average on standardized state assessments, despite a relatively high concentration of low-income and special-needs learners. While face-to-face teachers have classroom management tasks and other demands on their time that online teachers might not have, the OLE approach might provide a model for traditional schools to follow—and it suggests that one size need not fit all when it comes to student-teacher ratios.

Mickey Revenaugh (mrevenaugh@connectionseducation.com), a 25-plus year veteran of education technology, is a co-founder and Executive Vice President of Connections Education.