Virtual School Meanderings

August 15, 2012

Leadership Day 2012: Equipping Administrators To Better Understand K-12 Online Learning

Well, it is that time of year again. The time when my CASTLE colleague Scott McLeod posts an entry on his blog Calling all bloggers! – Leadership Day 2012.  There is no specific theme this year, there isn’t one most years if memory serves me correct.  But as usual, Scott provide a general overview of the purpose of today (i.e., blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership), and then posts a serious of questions to get the juices flowing.

This year, I’ve chosen to focus on the question:

When it comes to P-12 technology leadership, where do we need new knowledge, understanding, training, or research?

And, as per the theme of this blog, I want to look at that question through the lens of K-12 online learning.

The easy answer to the question is simply to say K-12 online learning in general. At present, K-12 online learning is growing by leaps and bounds.  Legislators across the United States are buying into the rhetoric of lobbyist, corporations, and even professional associations pushing a neo-liberal agenda to make K-12 online learning easier and easier to implement and funded at the highest levels without much concern for whether it is effective or can provide a solution to any of the existing problems facing the public education system (or at least what’s left of it after the current neo-liberal assault).

The lobbyist, corporations, and professional associations point to studies that prove K-12 online learning works and use language like “K-12 online learning is better than face-to-face learning, and blended learning is even better!”  They fail to mention that those studies often contain selective samples for the online cohort, and rarely – almost never – include students enrolled in full-time programs (which is where the greatest push to “open up the K-12 online learning market” has occurred).  When challenged with research to the contrary, they claim that it is methodologically flawed and that Annual Yearly Progress or AYP is a flawed metric (never mind the fact that they find it a perfectly good metric to prove how traditional public schools are failing our students), and then point to studies that support their chosen point of view (ignoring the huge methodological flaws in that research).

Once the market has been opened, K-12 administrators are deluged with materials and pressure from the corporations to jump on the bandwagon for the good of their students, and it’ll help the school’s budget as well (not to mention the bottomline of the corporation).  So you get schools buying into products that there is little to no evidence that they actually work, in some cases being bilked in arrangements that turn out to be misleading in terms of the adherence to state guidelines (assuming any exist after the lobbyist, corporations, and professional associations are done with the legislator).

As we have seen time and again over the past two years the Republicans and a growing number of neo-liberal Democrats (and I am beginning to wondering if there is any other kind these days) have no interest in stopping the lobbyist, corporations, and professional associations from setting up regulatory regimes that allow them to rape and pillage the public education system.  They also aren’t interested in challenging the lies told and misleading use of existing literature from these groups.  So then it falls on the shoulders of administrators are the school and school district level.

We need to equip administrators will the knowledge to understand the research that is being presented to them when it comes to K-12 online learning.  To examine under what circumstances the research was conducted, and what are the methodological limitations because of that. For example, the methodological limitations of the student into K12, Inc.’s Arkansas Virtual Academy lead most who understand research to question the validity of any finding from the way in which the data was collected and analyzed.

We also need to provide our administrators with an understanding that K-12 online learning can work with any type of student, under any conditions.  However, not all forms of K-12 online learning work with all students in any condition.  For example, we’ve seen that full-time, district-based K-12 online learning programs seem to be having much more success than the full-time, state-wide K-12 online learning programs (i.e., the kind offered by most cyber charter companies). One of the reasons why is because they target a specific population of students and then design, deliver and support that program based on the needs of that population.  For all of their talk about personalized learning and individual instruction, the full-time, state-wide cyber charter schools offer one model for the way their courses are designed, delivered and supported – the only differentiation is how much material the student has to complete based on standardized exams at the beginning of each unit.

Finally, as a research community we need to do a better job of understanding the conditions under which K-12 online learning can be effective (to use Rick Ferdig’s language) or how we can effectively design, deliver and support K-12 online learning for different populations of students (to use my own language).

In case you are interesting, my previous contributions to Leadership Day include:

As well, two years ago I felt the need to post A Response To iNACOL’s “Leadership Day 2010: Online And Blended Learning”.  In case you’d wondering why I participate each year, I think Rick Schwier sums it up in his entry We’re small; the job is huge.


  1. […] 2012: Equipping Administrators To Better Understand K-12 Online Learning […]

    Pingback by Leadership Day 2013 – Pedagogy, Not Economics | Virtual School Meanderings — August 15, 2013 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

  2. […] 2012: Equipping Administrators To Better Understand K-12 Online Learning […]

    Pingback by Leadership Day 2014: Educational Leadership and Virtual Schooling | Virtual School Meanderings — August 15, 2014 @ 11:21 am | Reply

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