Are Today's Administrators Prepared?

Article excerpt

Virtual education is one of the fastest growing areas in K-12 education today. Online education (as it is also referred to) has taken a variety of new forms since the first virtual high school was created a decade and a half ago. There are public and private stand-alone virtual schools, virtual programs that are a component of an existing program, and there are teachers who have incorporated elements of online education into traditional, onground instruction (referred to as hybrid or blended).

A recent study, conducted by Project Tomorrow and titled "Speak-Up 2009: Creating our Future Student Survey," indicates that many more high school students are interested in online education than currently participate. One obstacle holding them back is the lack of information about the nature of online education, and another is lack of access to online programs. An earlier study published by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicated that about one third of all public school districts had students enrolled in distance education courses of some type in the 2002-2003 school year. That percentage has been growing each year (NCES, 2003). In fact, the January 18, 2010, edition of eSchool News published the following data:

* The state of Florida's legislature has mandated that every public school district must establish an online program for K-8 and K-12 programs.

* The Center for Digital Education states that currently 27 states have statewide online initiatives.

The rapid growth of these programs has resulted in their identification as a disruptive innovation, and their development trajectory has been from outside the traditional educational program. As a result, school administrators are faced with making decisions about an educational innovation with which they've had little experience. It is most common for adults who aren't as comfortable with online social networking and online environments to be suspicious or distrustful of the quality of education offered by these new programs (George, Hall, & Stieglebaur, 2006).

What do we know about the quality of online education? Everyone can come up with a horror story about a truly bad online experience. Administrators can hear those and assume they apply to all online education. Paradoxically, while everyone also has a story about a truly bad face-toface classroom experience, most educators will ignore them, focusing on the positive experiences, and make a decision to work in that environment. Administrators need to seek out the success stories involving online education, both for their own education and to have a better understanding of this new approach. Understanding the distinctions between fully-online and blended, asynchronous and synchronous, self-paced and scheduled, and individual and collaborative activities can help explain the range of initially confusing methods. Administrators may be surprised to know about the research that compares online instruction to on-ground instruction and finds that the online instruction is as good or better than the on-ground counterpart.

Specifically, one major study's results suggested that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, when compared to those who took the same course through face-to-face instruction. The impact of these finding is heightened when the study considered those who took "blended" courses - those that combine elements of online learning and face-toface instruction - appeared to facilitate achievement best of all (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

Well-designed online courses are rigorous. They aren't impersonal, and they can reach students who might otherwise not have access to such courses. An urban legend floating around proposes that there's a special type of student who's successful in online education, and only those students should be allowed to participate in online education. …