Originally published in The 74 Million – May 6, 2019
Students are individuals, and learning is personal. These are the two tenets on which online schools were built, and it is what is driving students around the country to this new education model. Yet, while online schools are working for thousands of K-12 students, the model needs to continue to evolve so it helps more succeed.
This means recruiting and training effective online teachers. It means engaging students with rich, interactive content. It means providing academic support to students who need it, and it means state policies that focus on keeping students engaged, learning and progressing toward graduation.
Online schools can do more to improve student outcomes, but they also need the backing of good state policies to enforce programs and procedures that have proven to be most effective. Most importantly, policy should expand access to education and not limit it with a selection process that weeds out students who are deemed unlikely to succeed.
Several states have implemented policies that have resulted in improved student outcomes. These include an in-depth and informative onboarding process for all students and families; an engagement policy that ensures students are logging on and participating in classes and assignments; and ensuring that schools have access to the best teachers. We can learn from their successes.
Onboarding and orientation
While online education can be a good fit for many students, no one school option fits every student. Families need time to fully understand how the online model works and determine if it is a good fit for them, before school starts. For online and blended schools, a thorough onboarding process has proven to be a critical element of student success. During an intensive, weeklong process at K12 partner schools, families participate in information and orientation sessions, attend enrollment consultations, and receive video guides and information packets. The goal is to make parents and students fully aware of the expectations of the online program.
In Ohio, online schools are required to provide technology training (for both students and guardians) and set up guidelines for a student’s school day routine, as well as expectations for attendance, assignment completion and effective communication. After implementing this policy, Ohio Virtual Academy saw a 15 to 20 percent increase in classroom participation (logging on) and overall attendance.
All students must be engaged to succeed. In an online school, a teacher can’t tap a daydreaming student on the shoulder to get him or her to pay attention. Instead, educators face the challenge of teaching students who aren’t logging on or completing their coursework.
States can empower online and blended schools to define and enforce engagement. If a student is unwilling to meet the required level of engagement (e.g., logging on, attending classes and completing assignments), a school should be able to take appropriate actions, including withdrawal, if necessary. Indiana recently adopted a policy that allows online charter schools to withdraw a student who regularly fails to participate in courses. It is a fair policy that gives schools an additional tool to promote engagement, while ensuring the parents and students are provided with adequate notice, due process and opportunities to re-engage and succeed.
After implementing this policy, Insight School of Indiana saw improved engagement at all levels. Overall passing rates increased by over 14 percent, with eighth grade seeing a 30.8 percent increase and 10th grade a 20.5 percent increase.
Expanding access to great teachers
In theory, an online teacher should be able to teach from anywhere in the country, but outdated policies limit the ability of online schools to hire teachers from across state lines. Teaching licensure processes vary by state, and while some states have reciprocity agreements, they can be difficult to navigate. States should allow licensed educators from any state to teach students online if they are able to demonstrate expertise in online teaching through a specialization or certificate. This would allow online students to learn from the country’s best teachers.
Policy should expand — not restrict — access
Some have suggested limiting access to online schools to only students who fit some predetermined criteria and screening students through a selection process. But no child should be denied equal access to a public school option, like online public schools, due to educational, geographic and socioeconomic circumstances out of their control.
Students choose to enroll in an online school for many different reasons. Some are bored in their brick-and-mortar school and want an accelerated curriculum, while others are struggling with the quick pace of a traditional classroom. Some feel unsafe or are bullied in their school, and others are struggling with illness and can’t leave their home. All these students make a choice they believe is right for them. In fact, the majority of online students in K12 partner schools have no other public education choice but their local school. Where do they go if that doesn’t work for them?
With the right policies in place, we can do more to help them succeed in their school of choice.
Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia City Council member, is an attorney, author, education reform activist, and president of academics, policy and schools for K12 Inc.
To learn more about K12 Inc., visit https://www.k12.com/