Why States Should Require Online Courses

EdWeek reposted a Miami Herald story reviewing the pros/cons of the recent addition of a Florida requirement that every high school student take an online course.
There is a good deal of speculation in the article that the requirement is just about saving money, noting that “Florida spends 23 percent less on a student in virtual school than in a traditional one.”  However, that is only true if a student takes a course from statewide provider Florida Virtual School.
Districts in Florida have been mandated to make online learning available to their students through a partnership with an online learning provider and, as a result, are well positioned to offer online courses to their students.  The state would not realize any savings from in district offerings.
Patricia Levesque, Foundation for Excellent Education, said “The purpose of the requirement was not to save money but to give kids online experience to better prepare them for the future. There was actually never a discussion in committee that this would save the state money.”
On December 1, 2010, Digital Learning Now, co-chaired for former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, issued recommended policies for high quality digital learning.  Earlier this month DLN released a video on Element 2 where Gov. Wise and I discuss student access.  It recommends that all students have access to quality content and courses.
In addition to attacking barriers, Element 2 suggests that states should add a gradation requirement that all high school students take an online college/career prep course.  I’d go a step further and require at least one online course each year of high school.  Nearly all young people will learn online after high school whether it’s in college or corporate or military training.  High school is a great place to start learning online.
The requirement will also encourage schools and districts to accelerate the shift to personal digital learning and consider other productive ways to incorporate online learning.  The Herald quotes several critics concerned that this requirement somehow”undermining public schools.”   It is fair to say that the requirement seeks to undermine high school as we know it.
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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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