We’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging recently—for about the past 15 months in fact. With this post and with the launch of our revised website, we are ending our blogging hiatus. Our plan is to post once per week, and occasionally more often, to help spread news items of interest, comment on developments in the field and new reports, and share our own research and findings.
In Keeping Pace 2015 we wrote extensively about state virtual schools, in particular noting some of the new directions that state virtual schools are taking as they face increasing competition from other providers and from districts developing their own online content. This past week we met with a group of state virtual schools that are part of the Virtual School Leadership Alliance, and found that they continue to grow and evolve. Keeping Pace characterizes state virtual schools as operational intermediate supplier organizations that provide online learning programs to schools statewide.
Among the reasons that schools, students, and parents are interested in online courses is that they believe that the use of online learning is growing in colleges, and they want high school graduates to be well prepared for post-secondary learning. Therefore, tracking recent developments in online learning at the post-secondary level is valuable for people primarily interested in K-12 education, and fortunately several good sources of information exist, including WCET, the Babson Survey Research Group, Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein at E-Literate, and the federal government. The WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016 analyzes fall 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). It counts students in two categories: those who are exclusively in distance education, and students who are mixing distance learning and on-campus courses. A third category, “at least one distance education course,” combines the two categories.
The last post, “We grew the blended program by solving one problem at a time,” explored the ways in which two successful blended programs in Oregon had grown. As the title suggested, those programs, Bend La Pine and Crater Lake, focused on challenges faced by students or schools, addressed those challenges, and moved on to the next. I had spoken with Tres Tyvand of Bend La Pine to make sure the post captured ideas in her presentation accurately, but reading the post once it went live got her thinking more about what she presented last week in Portland. The thoughts she sent in her email are worth adding as a coda to the earlier post:
Last week Fuel Education held a Blended Learning Leaders Forum in Portland, Oregon, that featured two excellent speakers: Tres Tyvand of Bend La Pine Schools, and Bryan Wood of the Crater Lake Charter School. Both gave inspiring presentations, and one element that stood out for me was that both gave similar answers to how their programs had grown. Each emphasized that their programs expanded by focusing on a problem faced by the district or by individual students, solving that problem, and in doing so showing how blended learning can be a critical element of success for students and schools. Then they moved on to the next problem, solved it, and in doing so the programs grew.
An earlier blog post highlighted a key aspect of the recent New York State Online Learning Advisory Council Report that is especially promising: the recommendation to spend $100 million on professional development for teachers and administrators. The report is one of several state studies released since the publication of Keeping Pace 2015 that are worth examining in more detail. The professional development recommendation is the first of four:
The Final Report -- Findings and Recommendations of the New York State Online Learning Advisory Council includes two aspects that are promising for the future of online learning. Both are contained in the Council’s first recommendation, which is “that the Legislature and Governor allocate $100 million to support multi-year professional development grants. These grants will support both planning and implementation to expand development of instructional skills using online tools in classrooms, and online course availability and capacity.”
Our 2015 Proof Points project, which we completed in partnership with the Christensen Institute, looked at examples of blended learning success in traditional school districts. Christensen tells us that the series was among their most downloaded publications of the year, and the profiles received considerable media attention as well. The project scope did not include any follow-up with the schools to determine if their success would continue beyond the data that were originally reported, so we were pleased when one of the profiled schools contacted us to report their latest test scores.
Why do some fads develop, become prominent, and then slowly fade with many people barely noticing that the fad is no longer a thing? One reason is that news outlets tend to prominently cover launches, reporting on and repeating the promise of new technologies, products, courses, etc. But if the new “thing” doesn’t pan out as planned, the ensuing media coverage tends to be much smaller than the launch reporting. The average person remembers the launch and the promise, and doesn’t see the reality-based follow-up. Here’s an account of one such situation showing how this phenomenon occurs.
Several previous posts have explored key data points in the overall K-12 online learning landscape,and examples from specific states and districts. Here we add information drawn from some of the many profiles that we published in the report to further describe some prominent examples of online learning. These are all condensed versions; for more detail see the full report. Note that we do not suggest that these districts are representative of school district activity generally; in fact these are among the districts with some of the larger and longer-established programs.
(The following is excerpted and slightly adapted from Keeping Pace 2015. For all graphics below, click on the image to see a larger version.) The previous post discussed online learning activity in school districts, using information that Keeping Pace researchers had gathered from state virtual schools and other suppliers. Our understanding of the state of digital learning in public schools is bolstered by reports out of a few states that we cited, and a review of activity in a dozen districts.
(The following is excerpted and slightly adapted from Keeping Pace 2015; see previous related posts here and here) This and subsequent blog posts will look at online learning and digital activity across the various U.S. K–12 education sectors, including public schools and districts, charter schools, private schools, university schools serving K–12 students, and homeschool. These are the organizations that are the firsthand educators, directly responsible for students’ learning and outcomes in our education system. Our goal is to increasingly understand how and to what extent they are delivering online and digital learning within these sectors.
(Back when Ben Carson was a leading GOP presidential candidate, he talked about education in an interview with Campbell Brown, and I drafted this blog post. Today Carson is no longer getting as much attention, but his views on education and online learning remain instructive for their implications about how educators and advocates talk about online learning.) Early in an interview with Campbell Brown, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson gets this question exactly right:
(The following is excerpted and slightly adapted from Keeping Pace 2015) A previous post looked at the digital learning landscape generally, and in particular traced the roots of today’s online and blended learning to both distance education courses and classroom-based computer-aided instruction. Subsequent posts will explore key sectors across K-12 public education. These definitions, sectors, and categories are not naturally and clearly delineated, and as such Keeping Pace imposes taxonomy on a discipline that is indistinct and chaotic.
(The following is excerpted and slightly adapted from Keeping Pace 2015) Roughly 20 years has passed since the World Wide Web began to be used widely, and indeed the oldest K-12 online schools and programs are between 15 and 20 years old. These examples include the Laurel Springs online private school, which dates to the early 1990s, the Virtual High School, launched with a federal grant in the mid-1990s, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which grew out of a Florida Department of Education grant to two districts in 1996, and several small district online schools, such as the Monte Vista Online Academy in Colorado, which launched in 1997.
Back in September, iNACOL hosted a “teacher talk” webinar by Chris Aviles, a teacher at the Fair Haven school district in New Jersey. I’ve never met Chris, but his webinar, website, and twitter feed all show experience, energy, and a solid grounding in reality. His blog post titled “the makerspace is doomed” struck me as right on target in calling makerspaces “shop class 2.0” and predicting that they are a fad that will soon fade.
In Keeping Pace 2015 we include some basic numbers about education that many people know, but are sometimes overlooked. These include the facts that the U.S. has about 100,000 public schools, 60 million students (depending on whom is counted), and 3 million teachers. (Click on images to enlarge.)
We also include some numbers that describe the size of the U.S. education market:
We released the Keeping Pace 2015 print report at the inacol symposium a couple of weeks ago, and the pdf is now available for download as well. A report that is more than 120 pages long is difficult to summarize in one or a few blog posts, but here I’ll summarize a few key ideas that we explore in more detail in the report. Key findings of Keeping Pace 2015 include the following:
Previous posts have explored the importance of teachers to online and blended learning enough times that regular readers may be tired of hearing about the misconception that teachers aren’t important in digital learning. But there’s another misconception that I think is common, although I have only anecdotes and observations.
In addition to the main points about the recent iNACOL symposium discussed in a recent blog post, another highlight was listening to educators from many of the schools discussed in our proof points series. We had leaders from Spokane, Salt Lake City, Washington DC, Randolph and Middletown (New York), Horry County (South Carolina), St George (Utah), Poudre (Colorado) and Putnam County (Tennessee) take part in two separate discussions.