By Jonathan Butcher
PHOENIX, Ariz. – We cannot expect everyone to buy the same kind of car. People have different needs—a handyman wants a truck, a mom needs a van with sliding doors, and someone with a long commute needs a car with good gas mileage.
Likewise, every child is different and needs to be challenged in different ways. Arizona has 52 school districts that offer online classes, along with charter schools like Connections Academy, Arizona Virtual Academy, and Primavera, to help students get ahead or take courses not offered at their assigned school. Yet traditional public school students cannot count on their school accepting credits from an online class offered outside their school district.
Limiting students to classes only offered by their district is like requiring everyone to buy exactly the same car. Lawmakers must allow students to take the courses they need and receive credit towards graduation. Lawmakers who want to open the door wider to online learning should consider a law based on three key principles:
1. Students need to demonstrate learning. A dizzying number of courses are available online. Instead of asking school districts to determine which classes are high-quality and which are not, students should be required to take a test to show they have mastered the material taught in an online class. The College Board (makers of the SAT, SAT subject tests, and Advanced Placement exams), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and the Stanford series are just a few test options that could show how much a student has learned.
2. Students should be allowed to take courses from any online school and apply the credits to high school graduation. Once a student demonstrates proficiency, districts should be required to accept credits earned at any provider.
3. State payments should be based on mastery. Virtual schools should receive a portion of per student funding at the beginning of a semester, part after the student passes the course, and the remaining amount after the student has passed a final test. This will ensure schools and students stay focused on course completion and learning the material.
Researchers estimate half of all elementary and high school material will be delivered online in the next decade. Digital learning has arrived, and states must find a way to give every child the ability to take classes that meet their needs.