K-12 online learning continues to grow in primary and secondary schools, while educational policy strives to keep up with the ever-changing environment. Specifically in the state of Michigan, a recent statewide analysis of online learning showed that over 76,000 students took at least one virtual course in the 2013-14 school year, accounting for over 319,000 virtual enrollments. During this timeframe, Michigan students who did not take a single virtual course had a pass rate of 89% for their face-to-face courses. In contrast, the more than 76,000 students who took at least one virtual course — most of whom took only a few online courses during the year — passed their face-to-face courses 71% of the time. The pass rate dropped to 57% for the virtual courses these students took. On average, students participating in virtual learning in Michigan tended to perform worse in their face-to-face courses than other students, and their performance in their virtual courses was worse than their performance in their face-to-face courses.
The growth in online learning in Michigan is based on a few key policies, including the requirement for K-12 students to have an online learning experience before they graduate. Moreover, the addition of Section 21f of the State School Aid Act in 2013 has strengthened parents’ and students’ ability to request online courses, as it states, “A student enrolled in a district in any of grades 6 to 12 is eligible to enroll in an online course as provided for in this section.” Along with the passing of 21f came a number of concerns about accountability. This report explores the accountability conversation with key stakeholders in the state of Michigan as part of a fulfillment of the following legislative directive for Michigan Virtual University: “Collaborate with key stakeholders to examine district level accountability and teacher effectiveness issues related to online learning under Section 21f and make findings and recommendations publicly available.”
For this study, key Michigan stakeholders — including representatives from the Michigan Association of School Administrators (MASA), the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Department of Education, and the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, as well as experts from other course access states and national organizations were interviewed. The goals of this study were to better understand the conversations surrounding accountability in K-12 online learning and to make key recommendations for moving the field forward in an informed way.
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