New York Times reports HS students taking “more” online courses; but article includes no data

The headline is attention-grabbing: How High Schoolers Spent Their Summer: Online, Taking More Courses. But the article is disappointing because it has no data; instead it consists of a series of anecdotes about New York-area students taking massive open online courses (MOOCs) in order to bolster their college applications—and often not completing them. Stories such as the one about the student taking online courses while traveling with his family around Italy are mildly interesting but would have been more noteworthy five or ten years ago than they are today.

The Times report tells us that of the millions of students taking MOOCs, “an untold number” are “teenagers looking for courses they high schools do not offer” and seeking to “nab one more exploit that might impress the college of their dreams.” One college admissions director reports “more and more students who apply to us mention they’ve taken online courses of various kinds.” But also, “admissions officials cautioned that MOOCs are not necessary for already overburdened students, and that the number of applicants listing them at this point is still relatively small.”

The risk is that this story will be reported as if it is based on data instead of a few anecdotes.