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eLearning Update: Private Providers Need Public Oversight

An examination of the growing field of online K-12 education finds that the industry—and particularly the for-profit sector within it—is in need of more public regulation, and then recommends four reforms to fulfill that need.

The report, out of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, also says the need is exacerbated because online K-12 education is growing most quickly where it is least regulated. And while challenges affect bodies as large as the federal government and as small as local education agencies, they are greatest for states, the report says, because states sanction and charter online providers.

The report fits into a growing body of work suggesting ways states must adapt to facilitate online education that meets quality standards. For example, the Digtal Learning Now initiative headed by former governors Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) and Bob Wise (D-W.Va.) has pushed for states to conform to 10 key suggested reforms it says would make their education systems more digital-friendly.

Reforms recommended by the NEPC report cover four areas: measures to ensure the authenticity of student work; regulations covering teacher certification and practice, demonstration of student progress, and school funding structures; audits of private providers to determine exactly the extent of cost savings possible through online learning; and accreditation measures for online learning providers beyond what currently exist.

Of note, the study is careful to differentiate between virtual learning and blended learning. While previous research has found blended approaches to be capable of providing students with an education that leads to comparable test scores to students that receive face-to-face instruction, that research applies little to fully online instruction, the report says.

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