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Published in Print: August 29, 2012, as About This Report

About This Report

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The world of virtual schooling is experiencing a host of major policy shifts that are opening doors for its expansion, but at the same time holding it up to greater scrutiny.

This special report, the first in a three-part 2012-13 series on virtual education, examines how state policymakers, educators, and schools are rethinking and changing the rules for e-learning. It provides analyses on the benefits and drawbacks of these changes, and what to expect during this school year and beyond.

Lawmakers in Utah, for instance, recently mandated that school districts allow high school students to take online courses from state-approved providers. In Florida, large districts must now give students online-course options from at least three different providers. And Georgia has altered the funding structure for students who take virtual courses; the action provides an incentive for districts to encourage students to try online classes.

Also fueling that growth are recent state legislative actions to lift or eliminate enrollment caps for cyber charter schools. Several states have made such moves; Michigan and Louisiana are two of the latest. E-learning advocates see such caps as arbitrarily restrictive, but other educators and policymakers view the policy changes as yet another sign that the push for online education is moving faster than measures to evaluate its success.

Those concerns are prompting calls for measures to ensure the quality of virtual education.

Georgia was the first state to offer an optional certification for online teaching, and several other states have taken their own approaches. But determining how to measure the quality of virtual education is complicated by the fact that state legislators are often unfamiliar, at best, with how virtual education works.

One big trend with implications for teacher preparation is the recent surge in blended learning, which combines elements of traditional and online teaching. That trend is sparking all kinds of questions about how to be sure that students taking classes that mix online-only learning and face-to-face instruction are receiving a high-quality education.

One thing is clear: More changes are on the way.

Vol. 32, Issue 02, Page s2

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