Funding advice for online learning

Next, the report states that policy makers must identify and define the types of programs they want to be covered by specific policies.

This problem is illustrated by an Idaho state audit that looked at virtual charter schools and district programs.

According to an Idaho legislature report, staff at the Idaho Department of Education (DOE) “are not aware of any other school in Idaho offering an online program other than online charter schools…However, the department does not have a process for determining whether any other school is offering a virtual program. Commission staff are also not aware of any other school offering virtual programs, but states they would only be aware of a virtual program offered at schools they authorized…”

The Idaho legislature responded, in part, by creating a legal definition of virtual schools as “…a school that delivers a full-time, sequential program of synchronous and/or asynchronous instruction primarily through the use of technology via the internet in a distributed environment,” says the report.

Another factor to consider is what the report calls the “Hybrid Dilemma,” or “how to define blended vs. online learning.”

The report explains that one way to ensure that physical classrooms using online resources are not covered by online learning policies is to explicitly exempt blended learning–that is, learning facilitated by a combination of online and face-to-face coursework.

For example, Florida’s 2008 law states that “A provider of digital or online content or curriculum that is used to supplement the instruction of students who are not enrolled in a virtual instruction program…is not required to meet the requirements of this section.  “This section” refers to the stipulations given to providers that touch on teacher certification, location of offices within the state, accreditation procedures, and other operational issues.

Principles and guidelines

After policy makers have clear definitions of the different types of online learning and what programs exist in their state, the report suggests creating a list of “First Principles,” or a set of foundational ideas that provide a touchstone for the “potentially complex and heated debates that are likely to follow.”

In the report, iNACOL provides a list of “First Principles” to help policy makers. Principles include (but are not limited to): Provide equal access to all students; advocate for valid research to ensure effective, research-based instructional and curricular practices; and maintain teachers as the expert leaders and facilitators of learning, giving them responsibility for overseeing and managing student learning, and for ensuring academic progress and accountability.

After the principles have been defined, the report suggests applying these principles to legislative and policy themes, such as funding, and gives examples of how states and online learning institutions are implementing and dealing with these policy themes.