Online courses fill a critical need

A recent report from Digital Learning Now, Making the Most of State Course Access Programs, reviews and makes recommendations on what Keeping Pace calls “course choice” – state policies that allow students to select one or more courses, usually online, from a provider other than the student’s enrolling district. With course choice, funding follows the student to the course provider. A future post will examine the report and its findings in more detail. In this post I am highlighting just a single paragraph, from the report’s introduction:

“A recent U.S. Department of Education report tells us that, nationwide, only half of our high schools offer calculus, a little more offer physics, and too many students do not attend schools that offer the full range of math and science courses to prepare students for college - Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics. This especially affects underserved youth from minority groups and in high-need areas. One-quarter of our high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II; a third of these schools do not offer chemistry. The same situation is true with regard to courses in music and the other arts, foreign languages, and so forth.”

These numbers are staggering. They are a reminder that online courses can and should fill a critical need for many students: providing courses that they would not otherwise be able to access.

(The DLN report introduction, by former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, doesn’t identify the report it references. However, it appears that the report is from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and is titled Data Snapshot: College and Career Readiness, Issue Brief No. 3, from March 2014)

In recent years the focus of many digital learning advocates and funders has been shifting from fully online to blended, and in particular to blended courses and schools in which students and teachers spend most of their time at a physical school.Policymakers, funders, and advocates should not lose sight of the fact that online courses—in which students and teachers communicate at a distance—have a record of demonstrated success. Given the political will and a relatively small amount of funding, states could very quickly make the full range of courses available to all students.

The only reason that students today don’t have access to a full range of courses is because policymakers and educators are choosing to allocate funding elsewhere.