The National Education Policy Center out of the University of Colorado has published a report entitled “Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S. Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation.” The authors (Glass and Welner) recommend that there needs to be more government oversight of virtual schools including recommendations for: a) Authentication of the Source of Students Work, b) Fiscal and Instructional Regulations, c) Audits, and d) Accreditation. In addition, they offer legal wording for states to adopt in order to implement these recommendations. The report builds on a previous report from 2009 (Glass) that recommends that school boards should adopt new regulations for online schooling, the need for audits of providers of virtual education, recognize legitimate accrediting agencies and require credible assessment and evaluation. Sadly, they did not include recommendations or legislative wording for ongoing funding for online/virtual schools. (In California, state law does not allow schools to collect daily school funding for students not in face-to-face schools unless they are in full time online charter schools).
First, the National Education Policy Center based at the University of Colorado did a great job of publicizing their policy brief. Their results showed up in the news and editorials by UPI, New York Times, Washington Post and in Detroit. Michael Barbour predicted that others would weigh in on the report – and he’s right – as people have done here, here and here. In addition the NEA weighed in as well.
The policy brief introduction begins:
This policy brief has four goals: (1) to describe the current status of ―online‖ (computer mediated) schooling in America; (2) to synthesize major research findings on the effectiveness of online instruction; (3) to analyze and discuss the political and economic forces shaping the movement toward increased use of online education at the K-12 level; and (4) to offer recommendations based on the findings.
This report reiterates that online learning is growing and references the Keeping Pace documents, which have been reporting on the growth of online learning since 2004 and the Sloan Consortium in 2008. I think we can all agree that the number of online school enrollments are increasing yearly regardless of how you count the students. I certainly agree that a common way to count online students should be identified.
The synthesis of research includes several of the oft cited research such as the various meta-analysis by the Dept. of Ed report from 2010 (which only includes five, yes, just 5 studies about K-12) and the 2004 and 2005 meta-analysis by a combination of Cavanaugh, Smith, Clark and Blomeyer. However, I am unclear why studies about the pedagogy of online learning was not included, studies about online Algebra (Cavanaugh, Gillan, Bosnick & Hess, 2006) or online discussion boards (Lowes, Lin & Wang, 2007) or building online community (Baab, 2010). Or the use of sources found in other Literature Reviews (Barbour & Reeves, 2009) or Cavanaugh, Barbour and Clark (2009) . And there was not one doctoral dissertation included, of which there are now many in regards to blended and online learning. See NDLTD or Open Thesis.
The analysis about the political and economic forces shaping the movement seems to focus on the for-profit online companies or Education Management Organizations (EMO). Not sure why they did not use any of the analysis of the Florida Virtual School (Florida Tax Watch, 2007) or look at any of the statewide online programs such as the Michigan Virtual School (DiPietro, Ferdig, Black & Preston, 2008) or the collaboratives such as VHS, Inc. No doubt there is plenty of political conversations about the online school movement because much of the movement is bottom up rather than top down and is being propelled by parents choosing educational options for their children, rather than traditional face-to-face education.
The recommendations focus on authentification of student work, fiscal and instructional regulations, audits and accreditation. I find it curious that the authors focused on the authentification of student work. Do they believe that students in traditional face-to-face classes always turn in their own work? Or that teachers in face-to-face classrooms can better monitor student work when they see 150 students per day? Most online teachers will tell you that it is more evident in online courses when students turn in work that is not consistent or has been copied from another student. Of course, if the assignments are simply low level multiple choice tests – similar to what one sees in online “traffic school” courses – then, yes, it is very easy for a person to cheat. What is important to note is that there is a difference in student success in courses that are computer led and courses that are teacher led – whether the teacher is face-to-face or online. Some of this is common sense that we don’t really need a study to confirm, while the nuances and pedagogy of online teaching and learning need to continue – just like the study of face-to-face teaching and learning.
In California, online charter schools have all the regulations the authors discuss. There are yearly audits and there is accreditation. Here is the audit report/guide document and here is the WASC regulations for online schools. In addition, in University of California also has regulations that are developing. What is missing in California is any state legislation that truly addresses K-12 Online Learning – to identify it, to encourage it, to regulate it, or to fund it.