A new report on the state of K–12 online education shows growth in the world of connected instruction, but some states are still putting up barriers to bringing classrooms online.
Keeping Pace with K–12 Digital Learning, the 11th edition of Evergreen Education Group's annual study, is a 176-page, detailed analysis on how schools across the country have been incorporating online instruction. The report reaches two conclusions: Students have more online learning options than ever before, but wide gaps remain in how these options are distributed among schools. The report also raises concerns about the lack of studies tracking digital learning activities.
"Online schools and courses are meeting needs for students in those cases where students do not have access to adequate physical school and course options. However, meaningful information and evidence are lacking for most digital learning activity," the report states. "Plenty of examples show that digital content and tools can assist in boosting outcomes, but the broad base of digital learning usage and effectiveness is unstudied."
Different grade levels incorporate online learning techniques in different ways. The online options at the elementary school level are often “deliberately designed to exclude online collaboration with other people,” the report states.
High school students are afforded a wider variety of online course options and tools. The level of supervision is also different at the high school level.
“High schools are more likely than middle or elementary schools to have online courses in which the teacher is online, or the teacher of record is in the same building, but does not share a regular class period with students,” according to the report.
Just as school policies on implementing online learning vary, so do state policies. Some 30 states and Washington, D.C., have fully online schools open to students statewide, while 20 states prohibit open enrollment in online schools. Various restrictions are not necessarily a result of outdated policies; some are the unintended consequence of strict standards meant to safeguard student data.
“New laws are being considered in many states — and too often are passing — that have the laudable goal of protecting student privacy, but are written in ways that will slow the spread of data usage in ways that will help schools and students,” the report says.