You’re probably reading this on a screen – whether a monitor, a phone, or a tablet – providing more evidence that digital content is ubiquitous. Likewise, its place in public education is not a matter of debate; it is inevitable. But school leaders and education policymakers do need to consider how to manage the influx of online learning opportunities in order to make sure students get their full benefit and not end up lost in cyberspace. The Center’s new report, “Searching for the reality of virtual schools,” examines what we do — and don’t — know about online learning in order to help do that.
We were prompted to create this report because K-12 online learning is growing so rapidly. Many players see opportunities in this burgeoning market and are pushing states and districts to expand their offerings of virtual courses and schools. They include the ed tech community; major education think tanks; school choice and home school advocates; and online learning providers, including several major software companies.
Yet there is little solid research on the impact of online courses or schools. In writing the report, we found a few examples of online learning having a positive effect, but most of what we were able to uncover is not encouraging–at least not yet. With the tremendous push occuring on behalf of online learning — it seems as if there is a new offering or piece of legislation every week — it’s time to step back and take a look at the data. Read the summary or the full report now in order to do that. — Rebecca St. Andrie