A number of states are enabling and scaling blended learning with policies that open up space for innovation. State policy actions to support blended learning should include supporting competency education, removing seat time-based restrictions, and providing greater regulatory flexibility to schools.
This blog highlights the efforts of states leading this work, through legislation and regulation, to create “districts of innovation,” waivers from state requirements that impede innovative learning models, and educator training and supports.
Last fall, iNACOL surveyed our members to identify the policy barriers to new learning models with blended learning. The most commonly identified challenge is the mismatch between state testing limitations and competency-based learning. States need to open up flexibility so students can take state tests earlier in the year if they are ready, and to examine how and when tests are delivered. Further, states continue to require schools to satisfy requirements that are based on traditional face-to-face instructional models. Respondents also identified barriers to developing and credentialing a next-generation educator workforce, and inequitable funding models that impede access to high-quality online courses and content.
States can address many of these concerns and allow schools to better meet students’ needs by providing greater flexibility to those schools ready to implement blended learning.
Here are some states that are leading the way in this effort.
The Kentucky Districts of Innovation were created by law in 2012 to redesign student learning in an effort to engage and motivate more students and increase the number of students who are college- and career-ready. Kentucky regulations allow districts to issue “a standards-based, performance-based credit, regardless of the number of instructional hours.” K.R.S. 156.108 and 160.107 provide Kentucky public school districts the opportunity to apply to the Kentucky Board of Education to be exempt from certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions, as well as waiving local board policy, in an effort to improve the learning of students.
One of the model bills for a statewide blended policy is Ohio SB 316, which was signed into law in 2012. The bill defines blended learning as the delivery of instruction in a combination of time in a supervised physical location away from home and online delivery whereby the student has some element of control over the time, place, path, or pace of learning. It requires that whenever the Ohio State Board of Education adopts standards that it provide information to schools on the “use of blended or digital learning in the delivery of the standards.” Finally, it provides schools implementing blended learning with flexibility from seat time-based requirements and some personnel and facilities requirements that could hinder innovative, blended learning models of instruction.
Ohio’s state budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 appropriates $1 million each year to fund five districts, schools, or consortia of districts and schools led by educational service centers to plan for and implement competency-based education pilot programs.
Rhode Island has opened up flexibility for blended and online learning through regulation, rather than through legislation. Rhode Island is currently partnering with The Learning Accelerator with the stated goal of making it a “fully blended state.”
The rule states that the Department of Education must “promote and support customized learning experiences for all learners through quality and engaging online content and programs.”
The regulations outline the following four principles for online learning:
- All learners in Rhode Island will have access to high-quality, rigorous, and relevant online learning opportunities;
- Digital learning in Rhode Island will support all learners in meeting academic and career goals;
- Rhode Island will support reliable access to the Internet and technology tools necessary for digital learning; and
- The Rhode Island Department of Education will coordinate these Virtual Learning Education Regulations with policies developed by higher education institutions and other state agencies.
In Arkansas, the Springdale Public School District was awarded a four-year, $29.5 million federal Race to the Top grant in 2013 to promote individualized, innovative education. They are working with the Center for Secondary School Design to pilot competency-based progressions as the primary determinant of course completion, including restructuring the traditional bell schedule, and incorporating extended learning opportunities and exhibitions of learning as assessment practices.
After the first year of implementation, the Springdale Public School District reported a significant increase in the number of students learning within blended, personalized learning environments. Funds have been used to purchase equipment and software and to train teachers and students on the effective utilization of these new tools. The school district has requested waivers from certain seat time-based requirements and is working to create multiple, high-quality pathways to graduation.
This past legislative session, the Virginia legislature introduced a bill that could serve as model legislation for states seeking to open up innovation space for new learning models. The bill, VA HB 1448, did not pass this legislative session but received widespread support, especially from districts. It would establish the Virginia Public School Improvement Program, to:
- Stimulate development of state-of-the-art programs in public education, including personalized learning;
- Provide opportunities for innovative instruction and assessment (within the constraints of what is allowable under current federal law);
- Facilitate the employment of master teachers and highly-experienced administrators;
- Achieve cost efficiencies;
- Streamline and simplify certain regulatory requirements;
- Promote family and community involvement in the education of students;
- Provide alternative and innovative instruction, school scheduling, management, and structure; and
- Accelerate student learning to close academic achievement gaps.
The bill does not provide any additional funding, but creates a mechanism that would support innovative educators to implement next generation learning models to help the students who need it the most.