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New Report on Virtual Schools Calls for Better Policy Oversight

(PRWEB) November 28, 2007 -- An annual report on K-12 online learning released today states that most virtual education
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 leaders want appropriate policy oversight to ensure and maintain opportunities for students, and to demonstrate quality for stakeholders through promising practices and documented outcomes. According to the report, Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning, the fourth annual study of the K-12 virtual learning marketplace, most online learning programs are growing at a pace of 25 percent annually, 42 states have either significant supplemental or full-time online learning programs, or both, and new forms of online learning are emerging rapidly.

The report can be found online at: http://www.nacol.org 

Keeping Pace discusses how virtual learning programs provide the individualization and flexibility that results in increased opportunities to learn
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 core curricula for all students, including those with disabilities, as well as how online learning makes available additional educational opportunities such as Mandarin Chinese. The report also highlights how districts benefit by being able to provide highly qualified teachers in courses not previously offered. For the first time, the Keeping Pace report includes survey data from online program practitioners as well as state-level policy data.

Key findings in the report include:
Only 8 states do not offer any significant online learning programs -supplemental or full-time - and several of these states are in formal planning for development of online programs. 38 states have significant supplemental online programs, including 30 states with state-led programs and initiatives. 18 states offer significant full-time online programs 40 percent of programs in the study grew by 25 percent or more in the 2006-2007 school
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year, and half of these reported a growth rate of more than 50 percent 59 percent of reporting programs operate across most or all districts within a state, while 24 percent serve students only in one district and 17 percent in multiple districts but not all districts in a state Although the need for Advanced Placement (AP) courses is often cited as a driver of online learning, 81 percent of study participants said 15 percent or fewer enrollments were for AP courses.Research conducted for Keeping Pace demonstrates how at all levels (national, state-led, consortium, multi-district and single-districts) high quality online programs are being developed. The quality of a small number of programs, often those taking new and controversial forms, recently has been the focus of studies in a few states. Although some states have established policies to ensure quality, Keeping Pace authors acknowledge the audits conducted in Colorado, Kansas, and Idaho over the past year have increased scrutiny of online learning, which continues to challenge state policy makers to find appropriate levels of oversight without impairing online learning programs.

In an effort to address concerns raised in these audits and maintain quality across the industry, online programs stated that they would support implementing appropriate policies to ensure continued growth as long as these policies are transparent, measure outcomes data instead of mandating inputs, and are flexible enough to allow for innovation and developing practices. More specifically, the report identifies three areas where the national government and organizations can assist with oversight:

Creating standards for data collection and reporting so that programs can be compared across states; Disseminating best practices across states; and, Helping craft policies across state lines to support efficiencies and quality of programs.Keeping Pace is the only study conducted annually to track the growth in the number of programs, number of students within programs, and relevant policy. It was written and researched by Evergreen Consulting Associates, with sponsorship and guidance from seven leading online learning programs: Clark County School District (Nevada), Connections Academy, Florida Virtual School, Illinois Virtual High School, Odyssey Charter Schools (Nevada), Texas Education Agency, and Virtual High School. Research for the report was conducted from May through September 2007 through both a web-based survey to online learning programs and a combination of Internet research and phone interviews.


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