Virtual School Meanderings

October 3, 2019

Report Notice – Course Choice: A Review Of Policy And Practice

Not an ideal time to be posting about this, but it has been a full blogging week thus far (with no real relief in sight).  This report was released by the Digital Learning Collaborative last week and I wanted to alert folks about it (as I haven’t seen a formal announcement of it yet.

Course Choice: A Review Of Policy And Practice

Executive summary

Course choice (also commonly referred to as “course access”) describes a set of state-level policies and
programs that allow students to choose an online course from one or more providers, and have their public
education funds flow to the online course provider to provide payment. The key element of the policy, as the
term suggests, is that students and parents have the right to choose a course, with relatively few restrictions
on their options imposed by the state or the student’s district of enrollment.

Course choice is one policy strategy to fill a critical need for students who do not have access to a wide
range of courses—or access to a specific course they are seeking—within their school. Another common
policy strategy to meet shortcomings in available courses is supporting a state virtual school or other
programs to provide online courses at below-market rates. In other states, no significant state-level policy
exists to address a lack of course availability.

The key elements of course choice are:

  • The student chooses one or more online courses from one or more providers.
  • The student retains control over the choice with limited restrictions. In much the same way that open
    enrollment laws allow students to choose schools other than those in their districts of residence,
    course choice allows students to choose a single academically appropriate course from outside their
    district of enrollment.
  • A significant portion of the student’s public education funding (pro-rated to the per-course amount of
    funding) flows to the provider of the online course.

Key characteristics of specific course choice policies and programs that vary by state include:

  • Whether students choose courses through a statewide source such as a common online course
    catalog, or alternatively find the course and enroll in it via the course provider or another source.
  • The reasons that a district can deny a student’s choice.
  • The recourse that a student has if the district denies the online course.
  • Whether students can choose from a single provider or from multiple providers.
  • The ways in which course providers are vetted by the state prior to offering courses, if at all.
  • How the cost of the course is determined, and in particular whether the state sets a cost per course, or
    the cost is set by the provider.
  • The tracking and reporting that the state does of providers, online course enrollments, and outcomes.

As of school year 2019–20, 15 states have or are developing some mechanism by which students can
choose online courses, but the states vary in significant ways.

The wide variety of experiences in states that have some sort of course choice policy in place suggests
that any findings across states must be generalized and will have exceptions. Still, a few observations
appear to hold true.

  • Course choice policies supported by a state program attract higher levels of enrollments
  • Often a single entity, or a small number of organizations, has an outsize effect on supplemental course
    enrollments in a state
  • Course enrollment data availability varies widely between states but is mostly lacking.

September 27, 2019

New Report Looks at School Choice in the United States

A couple of days ago, notice of this report arrived in my inbox.

Institute of Education Sciences - Newsflash Find IES Research on Facebook Connect with IES Research on Twitter IES Newsflash

New Report Looks at School Choice in the United States.

2019106Over time, enrollment in traditional public schools and public charter schools increased, as did the number of homeschooled students, while enrollment in private schools decreased.

School Choice in the United States: 2019 uses recent data from multiple National Center for Education Statistics surveys to describe the landscape of school choice in the United States. The report discusses the changes over time in enrollment in elementary and secondary traditional public, public charter, and private schools, as well as changes in the number of students who were homeschooled. It includes information on the characteristics and achievement of students enrolled in public and private schools, as well as characteristics of students who were homeschooled. It also includes information on public and private school students’ reports of incidents related to school crime and safety, as well as parental choices and satisfaction.

  • Although total enrollment in traditional public schools was 1 percent higher in 2016 (47.3 million) than in 2000 (46.6 million), public charter school enrollment increased much more rapidly, growing by more than 5 times from 0.4 million students in fall 2000 to 3.0 million students in fall 2016. The number of homeschooled students ages 5 to 17 with a grade equivalent of kindergarten through grade 12 in 2016 (1.7 million) was almost double the number in 1999 (0.9 million).
  • Compared with traditional public school students, a higher percentage of public charter school students in fall 2016 were enrolled in high-poverty schools (34 vs. 24 percent) and a lower percentage were enrolled in low-poverty schools (20 vs. 21 percent).
  • In 2016, the percentage of students who were homeschooled was higher for White (3.8 percent) and Hispanic (3.5 percent) students than for Black (1.9 percent) and Asian (1.4 percent) students.
  • A higher percentage of students enrolled in grades 1 through 12 who lived in cities (53 percent) than of students in the same grade range who lived in suburban areas (37 percent), towns (36 percent), and rural areas (32 percent) had parents who reported that public school choice was available.

To view the full report, please visit

The Institute of Education Sciences, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the nation’s leading source for rigorous, independent education research, evaluation and statistics.
By visiting Newsflash you may also sign up to receive information from IES and its four Centers NCESNCERNCEE, & NCSERto stay abreast of all activities within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

To obtain hard copy of many IES products as well as hard copy and electronic versions of hundreds of other U.S. Department of Education products please visit or call 1-877-433-7827 (877-4-EDPUBS).

This report does reference virtual schooling.

This report does not provide detailed breakouts on other school choice options within these broader categories, such as magnet schools,6 virtual schools,7 or the usage of open enrollment within or across districts.

6 A magnet school is a school designed to attract students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds or to provide an academic or social focus on a particular theme (Wang, Schweig, and Herman 2014). A magnet school can offer an entire schoolwide program or a magnet program within a school.

7 A virtual school, or cyber school, is a school that delivers academic instruction via the Internet or a computer network to students in locations other than a classroom supervised by a teacher who is physically present. Children can be enrolled in online courses to supplement their regular curriculum, or they can be enrolled as full-time virtual school students. As of the 2017–18 school year, 37 states allow full-time virtual charter schools; for more information, see State Education Reforms (SER) Table 4.3:

The table in question has been re-produced below (cutting out the middle portion that did not focus on virtual schools).

Click on the image to enlarge

In case it is difficult to review this, I have edited it to cut out all of the stuff in the middle.

Click on the image to enlarge

Report Notice – Commonsense Cyber Charter School Funding Reform Will Eliminate Wasteful Spending And Save $290 Million In Taxpayer Money

This report came to my attention in the past couple of days.

Commonsense Cyber Charter School Funding Reform Will
Eliminate Wasteful Spending and Save $290 Million in Taxpayer Money

Education Voters of PA

Executive Summary

$ Charter schools are primarily funded by local tax dollars paid to them as tuition by school districts.

$ Tuition rates are not based on what it costs a charter school to educate its students, but on the per student expenditure of the school district from which the students come. Charter school tuition for regular (non-special) education ranges from about $7,800 per student to over $18,500 per student. Charter school tuition for special education ranges from about $15,000 to over $40,000 per student.

$ In cyber charter schools – where the costs are less than $5,000 per student, far less than the cost in traditional public schools or brick and mortar charter schools – this wastes over $290 million in tax money each year, statewide.

$ When a student and his or her tuition go to a cyber charter school, not all the student’s cost leaves the public school. This has an adverse fiscal impact on school districts, often causing them to cut services and/or to raise tax rates.

$ Both problems – wasteful spending and adverse impact on remaining students – are being exacerbated by the rapid growth of cyber charter schools.

$ This wasteful spending could be curbed by setting a single, statewide tuition for both regular and special education students in cyber charter schools that is tied to the actual costs of cyber education.

$ By adopting this common sense funding reform, Pennsylvania school districts (and thus Pennsylvania taxpayers) can save more than $290 million each year.

Available online at

September 11, 2019

OSTA-AECO Releases Highly Anticipated eLearning Survey Results

On Monday, the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association/Association des Élèves Conseillers/ères de l’Ontario released the following statement.

OSTA-AECO releases highly anticipated e-learning survey results press release

The full report can be accessed at:

I would strongly urge readers to review the Canadian eLearning Network’s resource site on the Ontario e-learning proposal in conjunction with this report.

June 14, 2019

State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada – Special Report: E-Learning Class Size

This was posted earlier this week on the State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada website.

In March 2019, the Government of Ontario unveiled its vision for education through a policy entitled Education that Works for You – Modernizing Classrooms. From an e-learning perspective, the proposed policy called for a centralization of e-learning courses and a graduation requirement that students take a minimum of four e-learning courses beginning with the 2020-21 school year. Either as a part of, in conjunction with, or simply at the same time, the Government also engaged in a public consultation around class sizes that would increase the class size limit for face-to-face courses to 28 students and increase the limit for e-learning courses to 35 students. The goal of this report is to examine the literature related to e-learning class size in Canada and internationally.

However, before any examination of the literature related to class size, it is important to understand the different roles that educators play – and the different types of educators involved – in the e-learning environment. While in the traditional classroom environment a single teacher may select or design the materials used, deliver the actual instruction in a variety of ways, and support the student as they engage the lesson; in the e-learning environment the research clearly indicates that these roles are performed by multiple educators in different settings. Based on the model of e-learning utilized in Ontario, the two most defined roles are those of the e-learning teacher and the local school based facilitator or mentor. The e-learning teacher being responsible for determining the best pedagogical strategies, methods of assessment, and way to meaningful communicate with their students; while the local facilitator or mentor is responsible for supervisory and administrative duties, technical troubleshooting, and – in some cases – content-based assistance.

The available literature related to e-learning class size demonstrates there has been a historical expectation in Ontario that the class size limit for e-learning courses was the same as the class size limit for face-to-face courses. The literature further demonstrates that across several provinces the class size limit for e-learning courses has ranged from a low of 22 students to a high of 30 students per course. In both Canadian and American jurisdictions where there has been a significant increase in the e-learning class size, student outcomes have also decreased significantly – particularly in full-time e-learning environments. Finally, the literature demonstrates the local facilitator/mentor role must be included in any conversation around class size because that teacher has a significant impact on class size and, more importantly, student success.

The present e-learning model in Ontario clearly describes the importance of the supporting roles of teachers in school settings where students are taking e-learning courses. If teachers at the school level provide substantial levels of support in a wide range of areas, an e-learning class size could be higher than a traditional brick-and-mortar class in that context because there would be two educators that have instructional responsibility for those students. The larger question looming for the implementation of a drastic increase in e-learning in secondary schools in Ontario is how the present supports, which the research indicates are essential for e-learning success, will be scaled for the unprecedented increase of e-learning courses in the province.

To read the full report, click here.

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