Virtual School Meanderings

September 16, 2012

Virtual School MOOC – History of K-12 Online Learning: Blogging Activity #2

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?

4 Comments »

  1. I totally agree that K12 online education companies need to be held to high standards. In Florida, our state legislature is not currently doing this. Although our state constitution has established class sizes for brick and mortar schools, these standards do not apply to online classes. In addition, we are seeing that some for-profit education companies are using out-of-field teachers to monitor classes. Research clearly shows that class-size matters, even in online classes. Certainly more research needs to be done; but our students can’t years for such research to be completed. The Florida Virtual School DOES abide by state regulations, but online franchises do not.

    Here is a link to an article exposing Florida’s “cost-saving” measures. Our students deserve better.

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/16/3005122/in-k12-courses-275-students-to.html

    Comment by Holly Boardman (@halehawk) — September 16, 2012 @ 11:46 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment Holly! I have to be honest and say that my position is closer to the entry I posted yesterday (responding to part [a] of Tom’s blogging activity). Although I do think that if public dollars are going to be used for corporations to profit, we should ensure that these programs are making at least the same standards as their face-to-face counterparts. To date, these full-time cyber charter schools haven’t met that standard.

      Comment by mkbnl — September 16, 2012 @ 12:02 pm | Reply

  2. I agree with you as well. Since my department has allowed the online programs to dominate our Learning Support Center, I decided I would do my course research project on the corporation that is producing the programs. That corporation is Pearson. However, every data base that I have searched reports only glowing successes that are written by Pearson or an anonymous writer (that is probably Pearson as well.) I have read dozens of articles and I have not come across one negative review. Therefore I have decided to collect my own data by interviewing the users of these programs and documenting their successes and failures. This is the first semester these programs are completely online at my school, therefore, I wont have enough time to collect enough data for a good sample before I graduate. However, I plan to continue my research for my own inquiry and knowledge until I am satisfied with what I have learned to make an accurate comparison of online instruction to our traditional methods. Meanwhile, the instructors of these courses have been reduced to mere proctors who assist the students setting up their accounts and resolving other software quirks.

    Comment by Anet — September 16, 2012 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

    • Anet, I would love to hear some of your findings (e-mail me at mkbarbour-at-gmail-dot-com).

      Comment by mkbnl — September 16, 2012 @ 7:22 pm | Reply


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