School Reform and the Maturing of Online Learning

School Reform and the Maturing of Online Learning

David B. Glick (David B. Glick & Associates LLC, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch270
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Abstract

been underway that has led to new standards, new choices for students, and new forms of accountability. In the last few years, online learning has become a significant factor in this school reform and school choice landscape, and its influence is growing fast (Edwards, Chronister, & Bushweller, 2002). Standards, school choice, and accountability are three facets of school reform that are inextricably linked together. The logic goes something like this: start by defining what students should know and be able to do at various grade levels. These learner expectations have gone by several names, most of which have developed political connotations that flavor our perceptions: outcomes, objectives, or standards. For the purposes of this article, I will use the currently favored term “standards.” After standards are established at the national, state, or local levels, choices can be created that allow students to achieve these standards in a way that is most suitable for them. This has led to a large increase in options for students in curriculum, instruction, and school type. The increase in choices has in turn led to the need for greater accountability. More rigorous evaluation needs for students, teachers, and schools have led to new forms of assessment, more standardized tests, and greater scrutiny of schools (Elmore, 2000).
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Introduction And Background

Since the early 1980s a school reform movement has been underway that has led to new standards, new choices for students, and new forms of accountability. In the last few years, online learning has become a significant factor in this school reform and school choice landscape, and its influence is growing fast (Edwards, Chronister, & Bushweller, 2002).

Standards, school choice, and accountability are three facets of school reform that are inextricably linked together. The logic goes something like this: start by defining what students should know and be able to do at various grade levels. These learner expectations have gone by several names, most of which have developed political connotations that flavor our perceptions: outcomes, objectives, or standards. For the purposes of this article, I will use the currently favored term “standards.”

After standards are established at the national, state, or local levels, choices can be created that allow students to achieve these standards in a way that is most suitable for them. This has led to a large increase in options for students in curriculum, instruction, and school type. The increase in choices has in turn led to the need for greater accountability. More rigorous evaluation needs for students, teachers, and schools have led to new forms of assessment, more standardized tests, and greater scrutiny of schools (Elmore, 2000).

The latest nationwide, legislated attempt at school reform, the update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), encourages charter schools, distance education options, and other educational choices while attempting to set up a strong accountability system (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). The rigor of the accountability system, combined with the emphasis on school choice, has led numerous critics to charge that NCLB is an attempt to destroy the public schools (Mathis, 2003; Novak & Fuller, 2003).

NCLB needs to be reauthorized by Congress in 2007, and at the time of this writing, numerous organizations and policy makers are proposing and reviewing changes to the law. Although at this time it is impossible to predict the specifics of those changes, efforts are under way to make the law more workable, less punitive, and better funded.

At the same time, public schools themselves are expanding to include more choices within them. Although available options vary from state to state, charter schools, vouchers, postsecondary enrollment options, the ability for students to attend schools in districts other than their district of residence, and now online learning, are all part of the national public school landscape. Enrollments in such school choice programs have increased dramatically in the last decade. Minnesota, for example, saw a 1,300% increase in public school choice enrollments in the period from 1988 to 2001. By the end of that period, 17% of Minnesota public school students were involved in charter schools, alternative learning programs, or postsecondary enrollment options. This figure does not include students in district-run magnet schools, immersion schools, or other locally developed options (Boyd, Hare, & Nathan, 2002). Nor does it include the students in private schools or home schools, which in Minnesota now comprise over 10% of the school-aged population (Minnesota Department of Education, 2007).

Online learning entered the K-12 scene in the mid-1990s, most notably in the form of the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) and the Virtual High School (VHS) in Massachusetts. Since then, enrollments in such schools have skyrocketed. Enrollments in FLVS went from 77 semester enrollments in 1996 to over 68,000 in the 2005-2006 school year (FLVS, 2007). The growth is occurring in other states as well. According to “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning,” an annual national review of online learning programs and policies, 24 states now have or are developing statewide, state-run, virtual schools. Only 12 states have neither a state-led program nor significant state policies (Watson & Ryan, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

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

Core Knowledge: A highly structured, fact-based curriculum based on the work of E. D. Hirsch.

Direct Instruction: A highly structured, often scripted lecture and recitation-based instructional method.

Block Scheduling: A daily schedule for middle schools and high schools that involves fewer class periods, but each one is longer than traditional 40-55 minute periods. Advocates claim that block scheduling allows for a wider variety of instructional techniques, increased ability for teachers and students to focus on complex tasks, and makes for a calmer school environment.

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.

Immersion Schools: Language or culturally-based schools that allow students to study all or most subjects in a language other than their own. These are typically schools within a school district or programs within a particular school.

Problem-Based Learning: A loosely structured instructional approach that allows students to investigate complex problems and propose, and possibly implement, solutions.

Vouchers: A highly controversial school finance model whereby parents are given vouchers worth a certain amount of money for schools that they can use in any private or public school of their choice. Milwaukee, WI is considered to be a major testing ground for the impact of voucher programs.

Magnet Schools: Schools that focus on a particular curriculum area, such as science, art, or music. Like immersion schools, magnet schools are typically public choice schools within a larger school district.

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.

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.

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