Looking for Online Learning Exemplars

Without question, K-12 virtual education opportunities are gaining more and more attention as late.  Earlier this month, the Digital Learning Council — under the leadership of former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise — released its Digital Learning Now! report.  In it, the new group offered up its 10 elements of high-quality digital education.

The 10 elements are core to learning success, whether it be digital or otherwise.  By focusing on issues such as student eligibility, student access, personalized learning, advancement, content, instruction, providers, assessment and accountability, funding, and delivery, the DLC makes clear that digital learning is central to the 21st century learning environment.  Online learning is no longer a topic left to the periphery.  It is core to modern-day instruction.
But the DLC’s outline of how begs a very important question — who?  This week, Eduflack was talking with a school district that is quite interested in expanding its digital learning offerings and take a major step forward in offering e-instruction and online offerings to its students.  Anticipating the time and expense involved in such forward progress, school officials were looking to do some site visits with other school districts in state.  The list of “success stories” was relatively short, but a few districts kept popping up.
After some exploration, though, a big problem arose.  The districts that were identified as best practice for online learning in the state were districts that failed to meet AYP this year.  Knowing that, can one look to model instructional practice from a district that can’t make adequate yearly progress?  It might not be fair, but AYP is the most important measure a school district faces today.  Any step one takes to improve or enhance instruction should result in improved student achievement.
It would be terrific if every state were a state like Florida, with a strong and successful online learning network that can be modeled and borrowed and stolen from.  But in this day and age, we first look to our own backyards to see what is done, particularly as we emphasize the need to demonstrate proficiency on state assessment exams.  So while we’d all love to replicate what the Florida Virtual School may be doing, we’re first going to look at what the neighboring county or the district with similar demographics on the other side of the state is up to.
It is no secret that K-12 education believes in modeling.  Few want to be first to market; everyone wants to do what a fellow successful state, district, school, or teacher is doing.  This is particularly true for digital learning, where so few truly understand it and so few are actually doing it well.  So how do we know who is an appropriate model?  Where is it happening in a district, a school, and with kids like mine?  And how do we determine if a district is indeed worth modeling?
Eduflack is all ears for those who want to identify examples of school districts who have been particularly successful in developing online learning programs, particularly those LEAs who can demonstrate return on their investment, both in usage and in student achievement.  Who wants in?  Where are our exemplars for district-based online learning programs?

6 thoughts on “Looking for Online Learning Exemplars

  1. I think a related question is whether we even want 15k school districts to launch their own virtual schools. I’d argue that we’d want to have fewer, higher quality statewide and even national providers. Unless, of course, your interest in district examples is more about the flow of money.

  2. Doug, I would generally agree with you.  I’m not looking for a cast of thousands, and I’m more than happy to find a handful of models that are done well and can be replicated by school districts of various sizes and needs.  I’m not looking for examples of money flow.  I’m hoping we have some real examples out there of districts that have successfully used e-learning to expand offerings, meet student learning needs, and ultimately improve metrics like student achievement and grad rates.  Is that too much to ask for?  

  3. Problem with online learning is that many charters resort to this for students with disabilities…then don’t provide the needed support services (Speech, Occupational Therapy, Transition – job/living skills, etc) because they claim the virtual school is responsible because the student is no longer on their campus or “enrolled” as a student at their school – even thought they are enrolled in the virtual school by the charter. Until virtual learning “academies” also ensure that students are provided the additional supports required by IEPs, they will not be effective for all students. The “modeling” we’ve seen in LAUSD’s charters is “discrimination” against disabled students. One more way it’s done is by assigning them to virtual school without additional supports. This might be a good idea for some students (home/hospital bound), but to purposefully use it to keep certain populations off their campuses – while still keeping the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding is despicable.Too many people are jumping at sexy new trends without considering the effects on special needs, English as a second language or Foster youth. We need fewer business folks making educational policy decisions and more academics involved. Too many children are left out (especially the ones who are “harder” to teach). Soon we will only help those we choose to and the rest will be warehoused at greater public expense.

  4. There is a world of difference between school district-led initiatives and districts that offer online learning opportunities to their students. So, for instance, in Alabama every district has access to high school online courses via the state’s ACCESS distance learning program. In Michigan, every student is required to take something approaching an online course, and they’ve invested money in online courses targeted to potential dropouts. Our very own state of Virginia offers online learning opportunities statewide. I’d certainly encourage you to visit http://www.inacol.org for more information. Their annual Keeping Pace report is also a useful place to start: http://kpk12.com/. It includes a state by state breakdown and lists the names of districts involved in some of these very efforts.

  5. Not too much to ask for and a lot going on. I’d encourage you to be in touch with http://www.inacol.org and see the annual Keeping Pace report (http://kpk12.com/), which provides leads to district examples and highlights the policy environment. For instance, in AL, every high school student has access to AP and advanced courses through the state’s distance learning program. VA – our state – also has a statewide online learning program open to all school divisions. Most recent national portrait from ED can be found here: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2008008

  6. The inacol.org site states this: “Due to the rapid development in the field of K-12 online learning, the North American Council for Online Learning was launched as a formal corporate entity, in September 2003, as an international K-12 non-profit organization representing the interests of administrators, practitioners, and students involved in online learning in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In October 2008, NACOL expanded its reach globally and became the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).” It started as a business and uses the nonprofit status to infiltrate itself into school districts to make money. As for “Keeping Pace”…it’s also a business. This from their site: “Evergreen Education Group is a private consulting and advisory firm headquartered in Evergreen, Colorado, and founded in 2000. We specialize in helping clients in education, education technology and education publishing. Professionals representing our firm have served as operating managers and executives, organizational advisors, education publishers, and board members for a variety of K-12 and postsecondary education institutions, nonprofits, and private and public companies.” Same comments apply here as they do to inacol.When these “for profit” virtual businesses purposefully eliminate those students who would cause the data collection to show less than stellar outcomes, of course these online “business models” will appear outstanding. Anything looks good if you can manipulate the data.Many businesses involved with schools tend to avoid any responsibilities to students with disabilities (who could benefit from online learning with proper supports) or to English Language learners. It’s easy to provide service and collect data for students who do well. While inacol wrote a paper “suggesting” that schools use data to integrate and avoid discrimination, the truth is there are very few states that are “required” to. Districts can and do discriminate because so few families are aware of this occurring in the virtual learning world. To expect school districts that are unable to stop discrimination on physical campuses to do so in a virtual school situation is, regretfully, an unattainable goal in our current situation.

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