Time for Virtual Schooling to Grow-Up

Virtual schooling is a good idea. Over the past decade or so, online education has proven itself a valuable component of the learning system, from elementary to post-secondary. I personally use a lot of online learning in my own teaching, so I am a tried and true advocate for online learning.

 But, it needs to grow up. And fast. As online learning approaches the knee of the exponential curve, we can’t ignore it as just a small tangential sandbox. With 200,000 full-time virtual students nationwide and growing, it is core to the system now and we need to treat it that way.

In a new brief my partners Gene Glass and Kevin Welner, of the National Education Policy Center, articulate many of the current problems in the P-12 online learning space. There are serious, documented quality concerns and in some cases a near total lack of traditional accountability and oversight. The Washington Post this morning provided a good summary. The abuses are appalling and could cause a national backlash against the use of online learning in the P-12 learning system.

The foundational problem here though is a code problem. There are some questionable entities to be sure and the small number of large corporations dominating this space raise concerns, but that is to be expected in an environment of low or no regulation. If we can fix the code behind the online learning system, we can slowly begin to build those same foundational assurances that we have in the existing, traditional education system. Remember, at one time, it too was not traditional. It was as new and edgy as this is today. But, as all the various components of it matured we built guarantees into the code to hedge against such abuses. Not that they do not still happen (um, Atlanta) but we have a underlying code system that provides a means to punish and in punishing we can hope for some prevention.

So, as part of our work, I wrote up a new code for virtual schooling that states can adopt into their legislative or regulatory system and included it as part of the brief. It is just a model and will have to be modified to fit the needs of each individual state, but it is a starting point. While it avoids the contentious and political financial issues, it provides a baseline for accreditation and approval processes, annual operations and performance reports, integrity of student learning, teaching qualifications, and it requires the state regulatory body to take a hands-on approach to ensuring quality in this environment.

Frankly, while I am sure some huge virtual school advocates will jump all over me for this, this is just scratching the surface of what we actually need. This is just a starting point.

Online learning and virtual schools have a bright future ahead of them and the people devoted to them should be proud of what has been accomplished. But, now it is time to get more serious in our approach to virtual schooling. If we do, virtual schooling will continue to mature into the essential part of the modern education experience that it is destined to be.

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