The Evolution of K-12 Online Learning Policy from a Void to a Patchwork

The Evolution of K-12 Online Learning Policy from a Void to a Patchwork

David B. Glick (David B. Glick & Associates LLC, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch137
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Abstract

The Internet and its applications have challenged policy makers in seemingly all areas of public life, and as one of the applications of the Internet, online learning is no exception. Online learning policy has tentacles throughout education policy, from union politics to technology infrastructure. This complexity contributed to the lack of action that led the National Association of State Boards of Education to warn, in 2001, in its now oft-quoted statement: In the absence of firm policy guidance, the nation is rushing pell-mell toward an ad hoc system of education that exacerbates existing disparities and cannot assure a high standard of education across new modes of instruction. By allowing this policy vacuum to continue, educational leaders are failing to meet their obligation to assure that all students are provided a quality education. (National Association of State Boards of Education, 2001 p. 4)
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Introduction And Background

We cannot contort the character of the Internet to suit our familiar notions of regulation; do not dumb down the genius of the Net to match the limited vision of the regulator.

- Michael Powell, Former Chairman, Federal Communications Commission (Powell, 2004)

The Internet was developed to help the country survive a nuclear holocaust. Schools are not going to be able to keep it out.

- Tim Magner, Director of Education Technology, U.S. Department of Education (Magner, 2007)

The Internet and its applications have challenged policy makers in seemingly all areas of public life, and as one of the applications of the Internet, online learning is no exception. Online learning policy has tentacles throughout education policy, from union politics to technology infrastructure. This complexity contributed to the lack of action that led the National Association of State Boards of Education to warn, in 2001, in its now oft-quoted statement:

In the absence of firm policy guidance, the nation is rushing pell-mell toward an ad hoc system of education that exacerbates existing disparities and cannot assure a high standard of education across new modes of instruction. By allowing this policy vacuum to continue, educational leaders are failing to meet their obligation to assure that all students are provided a quality education. (National Association of State Boards of Education, 2001p. 4)

Since that time, states have continued to struggle, but most have created some level of policy or structure that governs virtual schooling. The North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL), for 3-years running, has published “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: A Review of State-Level Policy and Practice.” The most recent review, from October 2006, reports that 26 states now have significant policies governing online learning, and 38 states have either policies or statewide programs. Only 12 have neither. (Watson & Ryan, 2006). Unsurprisingly, there is little consistency among states, and where a void previously existed, the nation now has a patchwork of inconsistent policies that reflect each state’s educational culture, perceived needs, or political climate.

As online learning emerges from the shadows of the larger context of school reform, policymakers are recognizing just how much existing policies are steeped in the bricks and mortar environment. Because of this unsurprising history, radical changes in policy are necessary to fully embrace virtual schooling or allow its full impact and potential to be realized. Changes in school finance models, governance models, and even instructional models often require policy changes at the state or local levels that have far-reaching consequences, and in some states, that has slowed or paralyzed progress. In other states, policy discussions are evolving from merely trying to describe these programs in ways that make sense in existing policy structures to thinking about accountability for such programs. Funding, teacher licensure, and student performance, often in that order, are driving the discussions throughout the country. In many cases, policymakers shoehorn online learning into the same old boxes of traditional educational structures, thus reducing its power to reform.

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Main Focus: Organizing The Issues

Several authors have categorized the important policy issues for easier analysis. King’s policy analysis framework organizes online learning policy issues into seven categories: academic, governance/administration/fiscal, faculty, legal, support services, technical, and cultural (King, Nugent, Russell, Eich. & Lacy, 2000). Although this framework was created primarily for the higher education audience, it overlaps significantly with K-12 issues (Blomeyer, 2002).

However, the challenge of creating policies for learners. who range in age from 5 to 21, and the need for full-time supervision, raises additional concerns, and mandates layers of national, state, and local policies to address them. I previously adapted King’s framework for K-12 by categorizing the policy issues into 10 areas, outlined in Table 1 (Glick, 2002).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Homebound/Hospital Bound Students: Students who, due to health reasons, are unable to attend school on a regular basis. These students are distinguished from homeschool students in that homeschool students typically do not have health problems that prevent them from attending school, but rather choose to be schooled at home.

Special Needs Populations: These populations include special education students with emotional disorders, learning disabilities, limited English language skills, or other mental or physical health problems that prevent full participation in school.

Charter Schools: A governance model where the school exists independently from a larger school district and is run primarily by teachers and parents.

Open Enrollment: A school finance model that allows students to attend school districts other than their school district of enrollment. Typically, the funding follows the student to their district of enrollment.

Americans with Disabilities Act: Section 508. Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act requires that all Web sites developed with federal dollars meet certain accessibility requirements so that those with physical or mental impairments can access Web-based information. This is sometimes referred to as ADA compliance.

Postsecondary Enrollment Options: A school finance model where high school students are allowed to take college or university courses. In many states, the tuition is paid for by the state or the school district.

Flexible Calendar Options: Typically, school districts are bound to a relatively fixed calendar, either by state or local policy. Flexible calendar options refers to a variety of programs that might include year-round schooling, alternate calendars, or alternate daily schedules.

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