M. Reports

This page is for longer reports on digital learning.

The vital need for virtual schools in Nebraska, Vicky E. Alger

Offers an overview of virtual schooling, and responds to the governor’s suggestion that the state implement a state virtual school.

Moving from inputs to outputs to outcomes, Michael B. Horn and Katherine Mackey, Innosight Institute (June 2011).

Our major finding is that policymakers have largely failed to create legislation that rewards systems, providers, and operators for successful student performance. Instead, policymakers too often focus on input measures, such as seat-time, student-to-teacher-ratios, and teacher-certification requirements. This inhibits innovation and diminishes the transformative promise of online learning.

The policy brief exposes a few key actions policymakers must take to allow online learning to unlock a path toward the creation of a high-quality student-centric education system. A few examples include: paying online providers for student performance; giving school operators control over budgets and how they allocate dollars; and allowing students to demonstrate competency through assessments, portfolios, or other means anytime they complete a course, not just at limited fixed times throughout the year. [Copied from an e-mail notice announcing the publication of the report.]

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models, Heather Staker, Innosight Institute (May 2011)

This paper profiles 40 organizations that are blending online learning with brick-and-mortar classrooms. These represent a range of operators, including state virtual schools, charter management organizations, individual charter schools, independent schools, districts, and private entities. The organizations profiled in this paper are not a “top 40” list. [Copied from the summary]

Beyond Good and Evil: Understanding the Role of For-Profits in Education through the Theories of Disruptive Innovation, Michael B. Horn, American Enterprise Institute (May 2011)

Though profit-seeking companies have long had a hand in education through creating textbooks and curriculum, the use of for-profit companies in online education concerns many people. The author replies that companies respond to incentives put into place by buyers (including governments). Instead of focusing on the difference between for-profit and non-profit organizations (not as big of a difference as we may think), we should ask whether the organizations we buy from are doing what we want them to do. Finally, Horn says that there are benefits of both the non-profit and for-profit sector; policy makers should specify what outcomes they want, and then be agnostic on the question of which sector will provide those outcomes.

Online Learning 101: A Guide to Virtual Education in Washington, Freedom Foundation (May 2011)

The New 3E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged, Empowered – How Today’s Students are Leveraging Emerging Technologies for Learning,  Project Tomorrow (April 2011)

How do sixth-grade students interact with technology? This report has some answers. One in four uses an e-book. “In many ways, today’s 6th graders are much more technology savvy and fluent with the emerging technologies than even their older siblings in high school.” Another interesting finding: at least when mobile devices (smart phones) are considered, the digital divide has disappeared.

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning, Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, Innosight Institute (January 2011)

Online programs that involve face-to-face interaction between students and teachers are called “blended” or hybrid models. While purely online programs grab the imagination, blended programs will predominate–and have the potential to be “disruptive technologies” that reshape institutional learning as we know it. The marketplace needs to evolve from a dominance of vertically integrated companies such as K12 to an open-source model in which teachers, administrators, and students can mix and match vendors. Policy makers, meanwhile, should avoid caps on enrollment in online programs; rework regulations that have a brick-and-mortar focus; and pay a portion of funding to schools only when students master the material.

Virtual learning in Michigan’s Schools, Mackinac Center (January 2011)

From the report: “While there’s not an abundance of quality research on virtual learning in K-12 schools, several studies suggest that some students, particularly older ones, can perform as well, and perhaps even better, in virtual environments.” It looks at the Michigan Virtual School (a statewide program); a program offered by a regional school district to all students in the state; virtual charter schools; and district-based programs. The report recommends that the state remove caps on virtual-school enrollment. Among other things, the report is useful for describing the various ways in which computer technology is deployed.

Schools for Maine’s Future: Maine Heritage Policy Foundation (January 2011)

A Maine-specific look at virtual schools.

Digital Learning Now (December 2010), Digital Learning Council/Foundation for Education Excellence

The authors of this relatively short report (20+ pages) recommend what laws governing online learning should look like, grouped into ten broad categories. Among the recommendations: every student should be able to take online classes from any willing provider; test students when they are ready and don’t make the wait until the calendar says it’s time; pay “schools” when students complete a course, not simply when they enroll in one; don’t disadvantage online schools over other schools; and keep quality standards up.

Clearing the Path: Creating Innovation Space for Over-age, Under-credit students, Chris Sturgis et al,  International Association for K-12 Online Learning (December 2010)

Students who need to catch up on credits should be able to progress based on demonstrating mastery, and not be subject to seat-time requirements.

Online Charter Schools increase district Funding per student (November 2011)

What are the fiscal effects of online learning to school districts? This looks at schools in Oregon.

When Success is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning, International Association for K-12 Online Learning (November 2010)

From the introduction: “The most important finding from this investigation is that competency-based pathways are a re-engineering of our education system around learning – a re-engineering designed for success in which failure is no longer an option. Frequently, competency-based policy is described as simply flexibility in awarding credit or defined as an alternative to the Carnegie unit. Yet, this does not capture the depth of the transformation of our education system from a time-based system to a learning-based system.”

Going Virtual! 2010: The Status of Professional Development and Unique Needs of K-12 Online Teachers, Boise State University (November 2010)

This is a summary of and reflection on interviews with over 800 people who are involved with digital learning in some way, either in full-time or hybrid programs. Among the interesting findings: 12 percent of new online teachers have never taught face-to-face, and over half have between 6-15 years of teaching experience. Most have received training in how to teach online; most training has occurred, unsurprisingly, online.

Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of State-Level Policy and Practice, John Watson et al, Evergreen Education Group (November 2010)

This report gives a “state of the art” in online learning. It offers a primer on how online schooling works–teachers, materials, tests, technologies. It also explains how organizations that offer online learning differ from each other: they have different organizations (a specific state organization versus a school district, for example); their geographic reach; and the grade levels they serve; their funding (a general appropriation or per-pupil funding, among other qualities. The bulk of the report is taken up by profiles of each state  (two or three pages for each state) describing current legislation, online programs, and major policies governing online schooling. This report is updated annually; go to this page for previous editions, which go back to 2004.

A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning, International Association for K-12 Online Learning (October 2010)

Matthew Wicks addresses many nuts-and-bolts questions about online learning: What’s it like to teach in an online environment? What sort of training do these teachers receive? How do you test students and make sure they’re not cheating? What about science experiments? He also looks at the emerging issues of mobile learning, blended learning, and districts enacting their own programs.

Hybrid Schools: Turning around Public K-12 Education in America, Alvarez & Marsal Education Management Organization, LLC (October 2010)

A look at the Florida Virtual School and other aspects of online learning.

Class Connections: High School Reform and the Role of Online Learning, Hunter College, August 2010.

The result of a survey of high school principals, this report discusses the role of online learning in credit recovery. (Can students who need online learning for this purpose have the required discipline to make it work?).  Online courses also let high school students get a jump on their college careers. Online learning can be especially valuable to rural schools.

Good Classroom ‘Disruption’: Use the Internet to expand educational options in rural school districts, John Locke Foundation (August 2010)

This report offers recommendations specific to North Carolina.

Virtual K-12 Public School Programs and Students with Disabilities: Issues and Recommendations, National Association of State Directors of Special Education (July 2010)

Do online programs work for disabled students?

The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education, Alliance for Excellent Education (June 2010)

Three major challenges facing American education are 1) achievement; 2) finances; and 3) an impending teacher shortage. Online learning can help address all three of these.

Virtual Schooling: Disrupting the Status Quo, Michael B. Horn, James Madison Institute (May 2010)

In the early 20th century, the U.S. used standardization as a means to rapidly increase the number of people who received formal schooling. While that have worked then, it’s not working anymore. “Mass customization” is the key to success, and virtual schooling can provide that. This is a four-page brief introduction to the theory of “disruptive innovation,” virtual schooling, and the Florida Virtual School, which to date is the largest provider of K-12 virtual schooling options.

iNACOL Research Committee Issues Brief: An Exploration of At-Risk Learners and Online Education (April, 2010)

How can online learning help students at risk for academic failure?

Virtual Education Report, Kansas State Department of Education (April 2010)

This report is the product of KSDE, relying in large measure on the Virtual Education Advisory Council. It was requested by the Kansas State Board of Education (KSBE), so the report is included in the materials distributed to the board in anticipation of its board meeting. The report addresses the following questions:

  •  How does the type of virtual schools/programs differ across the State of Kansas and in the United States?
  • How does the academic progress of virtual students compare to their peers in the traditional brick and mortar buildings?
  • How does the Kansas virtual school/program meet the KSBE goals?
  • How does KSDE monitor and evaluate virtual schools/programs?
  • Should the State of Kansas establish a statewide virtual school?

Wichita Public Schools’ Learning Centers, Innosight Institute (March 2010)

USD 259 Wichita has used online learning as one way of helping at-risk students graduate.

Evaluation of Evidence-based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-analysis and Review of Online-learning Studies (2009). US. Department of Education

Where do students learn more? Purely online programs, blended programs, or old-fashioned face-to-face classrooms? The authors, who looked at over 1,000 studies on online learning, say that students learn more in purely online programs than they do in blended programs, and that they learn more in blended programs than they do in face-to-face schooling. There are, however, several significant “buts” to consider. First, most of the research to date looks at college and trade-school programs, not K-12 programs. Second, the benefits are small. Finally, the benefits that do exist are likely due to many factors, not simply because the learning experience is served up on the Internet.

Getting Students More Learning Time Online, Cathy Cavanaugh, May 18, 2008, Center for American Progress

While this report recognizes several advantages of online learning, such as customization and self-pacing, its primary goal is to see how online learning canincrease the amount of “learning time” that students have. “This report outlines the rationale for and steps toward making distance education courses uniformly available to expand school learning time.”

Technology in Schools: The Ongoing Challenge of Access, Adequacy and Equity, National Education Association (2007)

Computers and the Internet can help students, but much remains to be done to use their power. Technology works for students when computers are not just in the school, but in the classroom. Too often, they’re not. Schools need more financial resources and people to make the best use of computers in the classroom. Teachers need training on how to use computers in their work, yet few states require or offer such training. The report mentions virtual schools, but only in passing, and thus does not (much) engage questions of funding, governance, or curriculum.

K-12 Education: Reviewing Issues Related to Virtual Schools, Legislative Division of Post-Audit (2007)

This report found some irregularities in the operation of virtual-school programs in Kansas.  In particular, it found that KSDE has some good policies regarding oversight of virtual schools, but doesn’t follow them. It also dinged three small school districts for incorrectly reporting student enrollment in ways that could have been used for financial gain. It offered a number of recommendations for school districts, KSDE, and the Legislature.

Determining the Reasons for Variations in Virtual School Costs, Legislative Division of Post Audit (2007)

From the abstract: “The reported cost of operating virtual schools can vary significantly, with much of the variation in virtual costs due to differences in how schools account for costs. Once differences in accounting and reporting are taken into account, the operating expenditures for our four sample schools ranged from about $1,940 per FTE (Cherryvale) to just more than $4,400 per FTE (Emporia) for the 2006-07 school year. Other factors that contributed significantly to the variation in costs included the number of instructional staff in each school relative to its enrollment, as well as spending on technology, supplies, training, and travel.”

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