The late Steve Jobs would be proud: Last year, it was estimated that 1.5 million American students took courses online. Across the country, a majority of school districts have at least one student accessing classes through the internet.
New research from Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Dan Lips explains how online education is revolutionizing the ways in which students access information. “Today, the breadth of digital learning programs extends from full-time online virtual schools to occasional online instruction. The benefits include improved academic achievement and a better overall learning experience for students,” writes Lips.
Report cards produced by the Digital Learning Council indicate that Arizona’s virtual offerings compare well to other states nationally. Composed of leaders from both the education and business sectors, the Council formed to help states develop high-quality digital learning environments.
One of the main challenges to virtual education in Arizona is that some districts deny online credits earned outside the district. While district leaders should determine whether credits earned elsewhere indicate that a student has mastered the material, district policies shouldn’t limit the usefulness of digital content to students. A significant part of online education’s potential lies in the content’s accessibility — for example, an Arizona student sitting in the library can learn from a teacher working from home in California.
Virtual education also changes the discussion about how to meet students’ needs. “The conversation moves from choosing a school to choosing individual services that specifically meet a student’s needs,” writes Lips. With content accessible almost anywhere, a student’s education can be precisely customized through school choice programs that allow students to earn credits anytime, anywhere.
Experts predict that in 10 years, half of all high school instruction will take place online. As online programs add to the ways in which students can be educated, Arizona leaders should use the policy models afforded us by school choice programs to give all students access.
Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.
Digital Learning Now: Arizona Report Card