TOWARD the end of any year comes a prolific rush of products. In the education industry, this means a rash of new reports, whether end-of-the-year studies, deliverables for funders, or incremental reports that add to the knowledge base for predicting events in the new year. This year, three such items provide intriguing new knowledge.
VIRTUAL HIGH SCHOOLS
Did you know that 28 states have established statewide virtual high schools? Two researchers at the Education Commission of the States--Melodye Bush and Michael Colasanti--recently completed a database of these statewide programs by thoroughly combing through state statutes, session laws, state board rules and regulations, and documents from state departments of education. The program in New Mexico is a pilot, but the other 27 provide statewide access to a central resource for online coursework. The range of options is wide.
Diploma-granting or supplemental. Most statewide virtual high schools do not actually grant diplomas. Only those in Arizona and North Dakota appear to do that. In most states, the local district remains the diploma-granting entity. However, Utah's virtual high school can issue a diploma to students who are home-schooled, have dropped out, are past graduation age, or are ineligible to graduate for other specific reasons.
Focus areas. Statewide virtual high schools typically have a specific focus, such as core curriculum, accelerated courses, or credit recovery. Twenty-two state programs offer core curriculum. West Virginia offers non-core electives, and Virginia's virtual high school focuses on Advanced Placement (AP) courses. A federal grant allows the University of Iowa to run the Iowa Online AP Academy.
Capping the number of courses. Five states set a cap on the number of credits a student may earn online in a specific time period. For example, Georgia limits virtual course-taking to one semester course during the regular school year. Hawaii's limit is two classes per semester. Other states' limits typically range from three to six credits per year. Such limits allow more predictability with regard to the costs of virtual school programs and ensure that students take some courses in a traditional classroom setting, where they can benefit from interaction with peers and teachers.
Online teachers. Virtual high schools require instructors to teach in a new kind of environment, and 22 states require that online instructors have specialized training. Georgia requires teachers to have a specific online teaching endorsement. Alabama requires elementary/secondary teachers to have training for teaching online but allows faculty members at postsecondary institutions to teach online without state certification. Twenty-five states require online teachers to meet the same requirements as classroom teachers.
Oversight. Most states with virtual high schools require the administering agency to submit reports for evaluation annually or every two to three years. South Carolina's requirements are among the most specific. Each year the state board must report to the general assembly such information as the courses offered through the virtual school, number of districts and students participating, number of private and home-schooled students participating, student success rates, number of students who dropped a course and their reasons, expenditures, and number of students unable to enroll because of space limitations.
TIME IN SCHOOL
State policy makers are always looking to squeeze every ounce out of the school day. State policy usually establishes a minimum number of instructional days or hours (pupil/teacher contact days). However, fewer states explicitly address whether certain nonteaching activities count toward that minimum. Michael Colasanti and I dug into the details of such policies.
In Massachusetts, the state board defines "structured learning time" as time …