Alabama is stepping up its virtual classroom presence with new legislation that mandates that public school systems offer more online instruction options.
More than 30 states now offer fully online public schools, and Alabama was among the first states to offer online coursework. The Evergreen Education Group's annual report, "Keeping Pace with K–12 Digital Learning,” says Alabama has 51,809 students enrolled in virtual courses, the third-highest online enrollment in the country.
But state lawmakers are saying that's not enough. A bill passed in April by the Alabama House of Representatives would expand the state's virtual classroom options, requiring all public school systems "to establish a policy to offer some level of virtual school for high school students by the 2016-2017 academic year," according to AL.com.
Virtual schools would remain optional for students, according to ABC 33/40. Alabama Rep. Jack Williams said this option would allow for differentiated instruction, empowering students who don’t fit the mold for traditional learning.
“Technology is moving us in this direction, and the feeling in the legislature is it would be a positive thing for us to get in front of this and have every school develop a policy that they control,” Williams told ABC 3340.
The Alabama bill would also launch a task force to study the effectiveness of the state's distance learning program, ACCESS, which teaches students via live video feeds and Web-based programs.
Schools have found success using online courses to expand their curricula to offer more specialized coursework and accommodate students in need of credit recovery. And some have found creative ways to incorporate distance learning into their policies.
In 2014, Pennsylvania began piloting a program that allows schools to use virtual classrooms to make up instruction time missed on snow days. And under Florida’s 2011 Digital Learning Act, high school seniors in the state’s class of 2015 will be the first in the country required to take an online course to become eligible to graduate.