Growth of online schooling reshaping 21st-century classroom
Controversy surrounding online education at a tiny Oklahoma school district and a new charter school has brought virtual schooling to the forefront in recent weeks. They're only part of a broader discussion that must be had about the future of online education in Oklahoma.
That's not news to state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, who has worked in recent years on related legislation and is preparing for a legislative study that could lead to the creation of a statewide, state-sponsored virtual school. "It's definitely time for Oklahoma to start something to help our kids throughout the state to help our kids learn more," he said.
Florida, which started a virtual school in 1997, is serving as inspiration. Stanislawski said students taking online courses outperformed their peers in a traditional classroom. He cautions that doesn't mean brick-and-mortar schools are doing a poor job, but that online courses give students time to master material before moving on. Last year, Florida Virtual School served more than 97,000 students and receives funding only when students complete a course.
If a task force recommends the state get into the virtual schooling business, Stanislawski foresees many options for students. "The thought is that the majority of the kids if they take online would just be supplementing their education. However, there will be some that will be dedicated 100 percent online and that's fine. Then there will be plenty that will never take an online course."
In its early days, Florida had to create much of its online curriculum. That's no longer necessary with many private companies offering courses aligned with state academic standards. Several state school districts contract with a single vendor to provide online coursework, but that's not how Stanislawski envisions a state virtual school. "We'd never be exclusive to any one vendor and you have to hold them to very high standards."
We'll look forward to the study's results. A 2009 legislative task force found that the number of Oklahoma students enrolled in a full-time online program more than doubled between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. Those numbers will continue to rise if the recent controversies are any indication.
The White Oak School District drew the attention of state education officials after it sought funding for more than 1,000 students. The district has only about 55 students on site, and the rest are online transfer students. Interest also was strong in an online charter school that's been tied up in court over whether the school could accept students and when with a judge ruling it can't accept students until next school year.
As the numbers continue to grow, so does the need for more than a scattershot approach to online education and policy that reflects the changing nature of a 21st-century education.