Fordham Report: Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning

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”:

  1. Set K-12 Online-Learning Policy at the State Level
  2. Create a Public Market for K-12 Online Learning
  3. Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Full Time
  4. Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Part Time
  5. Authorize Statewide Online Charter Schools, Overseen by Statewide Charter Authorizers
  6. License Supplementary Online Providers
  7. Fund All Learning Opportunities Equally Per Pupil
  8. Exempt Online and Blended Teaching from Traditional Teacher Requirements Including Certification and Class Size
  9. Establish Student Learning as the Foundation of Accountability for Online Schools and Providers
  10. 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.

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