Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation this month promoting the growth of virtual schools. The new law requires the state to develop policies for approving and monitoring a wide array of private and nonprofit online education providers.
The legislative action in Virginia is the most recent major policy move by a state to expand the opportunities for students to take online-only courses from a variety of providers.
The law mirrors the growth of e-learning across the country and the need to focus on the quality of online courses and whether they meet state standards and push K-12 learning to a higher, more interactive level.
Assessing the Agenda for Change
This special report aims to highlight the progress made in the e-learning arena, as well as the administrative, funding, and policy barriers that some experts say are slowing the growth of this form of education. It also examines the trends that are likely to force policymakers to re-examine the current rules of engagement for virtual learning.
Local districts, in particular, are finding that a mix of face-to-face classes and online-only courses, an approach called blended or hybrid learning, is proving to be effective because it plays to students’ strengths and weaknesses. (See “Schools Factoring E-Courses Into the Daily Learning Mix.”)
“The whole notion of schools going blended is something that is going to get more national attention,” said Richard E. Ferdig, a research professor at the Research Center for Educational Technology at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. “There are so many technology resources out there, why wouldn’t you want your students to gain access to them?”
Some districts and states are embracing online learning as a so-called “disruptive innovation,” in which difficult circumstances force organizations to use tactics that go against traditional approaches or transform them. In the Detroit area, for instance, a local district with a high dropout rate and declining enrollment opened a cyber high school, which is aimed at helping lure dropouts and at-risk students into the district and get them back on track to graduate. The new virtual program has helped draw in new students, increasing enrollment and the state funding that follows students. (See “Detroit-Area District Innovates to Address Dropout Problem.”)
Yet barriers to expansion of high-quality online learning remain. For instance, some state policies limit the growth of online coursetaking. (See “Virtual Ed. Enrollment Caps Facing Greater Scrutiny.”)
Looking ahead, though, online learning is likely to play a critical role in changing the way K-12 education operates.
A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 2010 edition of Education Week as E-Learning 2010: About This Report