The National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) recent report on virtual learning seems to reference and regurgitate bullet points of the pros versus cons of online learning. It misses some key points in context of how students need high quality teachers – as the primary driver for students learning online because the courses are otherwise unavailable in their school. Other reasons students learn online is for the flexibility and the ability for personalized learning and to move at their own pace. The report does recognize the potential for online and blended learning.
A clarification needs to be made that all public school students are accountable to the public school they attend, regardless of technology. All charter schools are required to follow the same reporting and accountability requirements as required by the state, without exception to virtual schools. The authors are describing the same pitfalls with lack of data in traditional schools and applying them to virtual programs without context including true funding, process, medium, delivery, obstacles, legislation, policy and quality assurance benchmarks. Traditional barriers in policy and practice obstruct innovations for learning.
What’s important is to collect is data on what models are most effective and how are they best personalizing learning to meet unique students’ needs — does any state accountability system do this today?
The call for transparency in data is welcome for all students – districts and charter schools alike should be collecting more detailed student success data, not just data on inputs. The United States spends more than any nation except Switzerland per pupil on K-12 education at more than $10K per student and has below average student achievement in K-12 education (well below average for developed nations). The NSBA should recognize that most traditional schools are not collecting the data in detail for student persistence and productivity and a much more thorough collection and reporting of data for students across the board – in every learning environment – is appreciated. That might also show how students that haven’t fit well into traditional schools are seeking new opportunities and that perhaps require additional support – through great teaching and customization of the students’ learning experience.
I would point out that the researchers missed that one of the most predominant providers of online learning for high school students includes online courses offered by higher education. Along with districts, state virtual schools and other online learning programs – our universities from Stanford to University of Montana to Johns Hopkins are offering students K-12 online courses to prepare them for a high level of rigor and college — with equity and access for any student, regardless of the zip code where they live.