Virtual School Meanderings

March 12, 2018

Network for Public Education – Online Learning: What Every Parent Should Know

Note this parent guide that was recently published by the Network for Public Education focused on online learning.


Using technology to deliver instruction in schools has become increasingly popular. Students are required to use online programs, textbooks and apps as part of their classwork and homework. BYOD (Bring your own device) school policies have filled classrooms and hallways with students carrying smart phones, laptops and iPads.

In some states students are required to take at least one online course. In 36 states, students may attend a virtual, full-time charter school, never meeting teachers or classmates face to face.

The increased reliance on technology in schools is moving at a breakneck speed— one that far exceeds the accumulation of research on its effectiveness. Does online and blended learning enhance student learning? What do we know about virtual schools? How does profit influence policy decisions on the use technology?

Beyond questions of effectiveness, there are also student privacy concerns. Online learning, in all of its forms, captures a treasure trove of student data. Who owns the data and to what ends may it be used? Can private student information be sold for commercial purposes, with or without parental consent? What educational decisions are being made for students based on data that may or may not actually capture their achievement or abilities?

These are some of the big questions our report Online Learning: What Every Parent Should Know answers. Through an extensive review of the research literature, thin as it may be, our report provides critical information on what is known and what remain unknown. It also provides parents with the questions they should ask their schools as technology is rolled into the classroom.

The Network for Public Education (NPE) is grateful to scholar Michael Barbour whose extensive knowledge of the research helped guide this report. We also wish to thank NPE Board member Leonie Haimson whose knowledge of the use of technology, blended learning, and concerns regarding student privacy provided invaluable input to this report. Ms. Haimson also serves as Co-Chair of the Coalition for Student Privacy.

Thank you to NPE Communications Director, Darcie Cimarusti, for the design on this report and to Donna Roof, our copy editor. Finally, special thanks to the Board of Directors of the Network for Public Education, especially to President Diane Ravitch, and to all who financially support our efforts.

To continue reading, click here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I provided some background information and text towards this report.

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