March 23, 2012

Getting to Where We Need to Be

Keeping Pace has focused largely on state-level policy issues, occasionally touching on district policies such as online learning graduation requirements. This focus has reflected the fact that most online learning policies are state laws or regulations. But we’re also increasingly realizing that federal policy and action plays an important role as well, from ESEA to funding to research that is needed at a scale that only the federal government can support.

iNACOL has been thinking about federal policy issues, which has helped our thinking on these issues. We plan to explore federal issues in Keeping Pace 2012 in more detail than we have in past years, using the issues that iNACOL has highlighted as a starting point. We are basing our thinking on the recently-released iNACOL brief entitled “Top 5 Federal Policy Issues” that details background and recommendations around five key issues. The issues below are pulled directly from the brief; the comments following are ours.

ISSUE 1: Accountability should be based on individual student growth models to support student-centered, competency-based learning.

For the last 11 years accountability has been guided by No Child Left Behind; as Congress considers ESEA reauthorization, it should encourage competency-based learning models and build accountability models tied to student success.

As we research growth models, we are realizing that such models are not all created equal. We will be posting on this topic in the near future.

ISSUE 2: Support performance-based systems of assessments.

Instead of relying entirely on end-of-course exams, support a varied assessment approach that more accurately assesses student knowledge and skills.

ISSUE 3: Support Federal Research for high-quality online learning.

There is a lack of quality research into the effectiveness of online and blended learning. We must fund the development of baseline data, and support research into the effectiveness of instructional models, approaches, and implementations for online and blended learning.

Keeping Pace 2011 addressed the issue of quality (see pp. 40-49), and we took a deeper look at the NCES report here in our blog. In both pieces we discuss the lack of quality research. While there has been a lot of press lately about the performance of online schools, most sources are extrapolating from very small samples, and not digging deep enough.

ISSUE 4: Support human capital development through redesigned pre-service/in-service training for online and blended learning.

As the demand for online learning opportunities increases, so does the need for the human capital to lead innovative, large-scale change in districts and programs.

ISSUE 5: Ensure reliable and ubiquitous student access to the Internet and quality learning materials.

As opportunities expand for some students, others are being left behind. Expanding broadband access, supporting models of online and blended learning, and expanding access to digital materials will level the playing field.

Most of our policy research will continue to focus on state legislatures and boards of education, and 2012 has already been an incredibly active year in many states. We will, however, begin looking more closely at federal issues and their impact on blended and online learning policy and practice.

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