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Searching for the reality of virtual schools--questions for school boards

Policymakers and school leaders considering online learning have many questions to consider. Here are some suggested ones to start exploring the issues:

Enrollment

  • Who is enrolling for online learning? What are the different populations? What different needs do they have?
  • What student populations use online learning the most?
  • How will we track who is enrolled and who has dropped out? What happens to students who stop attending a virtual school? Will funding change as a consequence if this happens during the year?

Providers

  • Who are the different providers of online learning in our state or district?
  • Who authorizes different providers?

Program quality

  • How do we make sure the online curriculum is aligned with state and district standards?
  • Who teaches the courses? How are teachers selected and assigned? Do they have adequate preparation to teach in an online environment?
  • Does the district provide professional development to help teachers use online learning to the greatest advantage?

Outcomes

  • What outcomes will we track for virtual schools or online courses? What will define success?
  • Who is accountable for students’ progress in online courses? What alignment do these courses have with district or state curricula?
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  • How will student progress be monitored? Is there sufficient infrastructure to track student log ins and participation?
  • Who uses online learning the most?
  • If we are using online learning to help at-risk students or for credit recovery, do they improve or continue to struggle?

Funding

  • What is the true cost of operating a virtual school in our district or state?  What about blended learning or online courses?
  • Who determines funding for online courses or virtual schools?  How and when is this funding awarded? How is it reported to the public?

Accountability

  • Who authorizes an online learning course or enrollment?
  • How are test scores or other accountability measures for online learners reported? Are they broken out or included with the district? Is this the same for online learning run by outside companies?
  • What gains are students making compared to similar students who do not have online instruction?

State

  • How do gain scores compare statewide compared to those not taking online courses?
  • How does the state policy for funding virtual schools impact the funding for brick-and-mortar public schools? What happens if students enroll in a virtual school and then return to the neighborhood school during school year? Is there a better approach toward funding?
  • Who does the state authorize to provide online learning? What criteria are used to authorize or evaluate their work?
  • To what extent is the design for providers structured to complement school districts or to compete against local school systems?

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