The second topic in Introduction to K-12 Online Learning Research is “History of K-12 Online Learning.” The blogging activity for this topic is to make a case either that K-12 online learning must achieve (a) equivalent student outcomes or (b) improved student outcomes, to justify its use in expanding access to curricula or providing educational choices. I’ll tackle part (a) and part (b) in separate entries, so in this entry I’ll make a case either that K-12 online learning must achieve improved student outcomes.
As with the previous entry, when it comes to the research I still maintain this is one of the most misunderstood things in the field of K-12 online learning. You often hear the neo-liberal proponents of K-12 online learning – as well as the leadership of professional organizations – talk about how online learning is more effective than face-to-face learning, and that blended learning is even more effective than that. Those corporate-driven reformers regularly argue that online learning leads to improved student outcomes as part of their strategy to remove any restrictions to expanding their business operations. However, even beyond the comparative research, the practice of K-12 online learning is far out-pacing the availability of useful research. In fact, the vast majority of what happens in the K-12 online learning we know little about from a research standpoint.
Under these circumstances, I think it is easy to make a case that K-12 online learning must achieve improved student outcomes. We have research to support what constitutes good practice in the classroom environment. We don’t have research to support what constitutes good practice in the online environment – yet. Why should we divert the limited resources that we do have from something where we know a lot about to something we know very little about? If the something we know very little about can produce better results, than that is an easy question to answer. However, if the something we know little about produces the same results, does it really make sense to do something different simply for the sake of doing something different?
Further, as most of the full-time K-12 online learning programs are run by for-profit it is critical that we hold these programs to a higher standard. Most cyber charter schools are run by a volunteer, non-profit board. However, the main responsibility of that board (which is generally handpicked by the for-profit corporation) is to contract the for-profit corporation to operate all aspects of the school. This means the for-profit corporate hires the principal, all of the teachers, uses its own learning management and student information systems, and its own curriculum. Essentially, this is equivalent to an elected public school district contracting McDonald’s or Walmart to run their school. As we have seen from incidents where some of these for-profit corporates outsource grading to foreign countries and employ uncertified teachers in an effort to boost the bottom line. If attention to profit is the overriding concern, than I believe it entirely appropriate to hold these K-12 online learning programs to a higher standard. Afterall, if it is tax dollars that being used for corporate profits, shouldn’t we ask for more than the current public system is able to provide?