Fordham has released the fifth and final paper in its series on digital learning. This report, Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning, puts forth the following 10 policy recommendations for a “brave new governance system”:
- Set K-12 Online-Learning Policy at the State Level
- Create a Public Market for K-12 Online Learning
- Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Full Time
- Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Part Time
- Authorize Statewide Online Charter Schools, Overseen by Statewide Charter Authorizers
- License Supplementary Online Providers
- Fund All Learning Opportunities Equally Per Pupil
- Exempt Online and Blended Teaching from Traditional Teacher Requirements Including Certification and Class Size
- Establish Student Learning as the Foundation of Accountability for Online Schools and Providers
- Address Market Imperfections by Providing Abundant Information to Students, Families, Schools, and Districts
While questions of state-level governance are extremely important, I am particularly interested in #9, which I believe is absolutely essential to a well-functioning system of multiple providers regardless of which entity governs them. Specifically, the paper suggests the following approach to independently validating student outcomes:
States can gain maximum advantage from this resource by creating standardized examinations for all courses in a state’s core high school curriculum. Students could be required to pass the state exam to receive credit for each course toward a high school diploma. The exams could be delivered online. Their content could be part objective, closed-ended, electronically scored items—ready-made for online courses—and part extended-response questions or problems, scored by state-led teams of online and traditional teachers. For academic standards below the high school level, states should consider using their grade-level reading, math, and science assessments to award grades or credit. States should also consider requiring end-of-course exams for credit in brick-and-mortar and blended courses.
I strongly agree with this suggestion; supplemental online providers and full-time virtual schools would address quality concerns by endorsing a move toward a set of independent, valid, reliable and trusted assessments. Imagine if the assessments were universally regarded as high quality – think AP or IB tests for all core academic courses – yet could be taken on-demand for credit once a student has mastered the concepts and skills in a particular course. Given the costs associated with creating assessments of this quality, there may be a play for multiple states to band together to form buying consortia. Irrespective of how they are created, these assessments are critical to enabling a healthy ecosystem of multiple providers. Without them, it’s the wild wild west and questions of quality will undoubtedly persist.