Lessons for Online Learning: Charter schools’ successes and mistakes have a lot to teach virtual educators
by Erin Dillon and Bill Tucker / Education Next / Vol. 11 No. 2 Spring 2011
Advocates for virtual education say that it has the power to transform an archaic K–12 system of schooling. Instead of blackboards, schoolhouses, and a six-hour school day, interactive technology will
personalize learning to meet each student’s needs, ensure all students have access to quality teaching, extend learning opportunities to all hours of the day and all days of the week, and innovate and improve over time. Indeed, virtual education has the potential not only to help solve many of the most pressing issues in K–12 education, but to do so in a cost-effective manner. More than 1 million public-education students now take online courses, and as more districts and states initiate and expand online offerings, the numbers continue to grow. But to date, there’s little research or publicly available data on the outcomes from K–12 online learning. And even when data are publicly available, as is the case with virtual charter schools, analysts and education officials have paid scant attention to—and have few tools for analyzing—performance. Until policymakers, educators, and advocates pay as much attention to quality as they do to expansion, virtual education will not be ready for a lead role in education reform.