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Report Gives Guidance for Launching Online Programs

For the first time, the Evergreen Education Group's annual release of the "Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning" report, a fixture of the Virtual School Symposium that began today here in New Orleans, includes a 24-page insert that gives newcomers guidance for planning their own online and/or blended learning programs.

The report also identifies several key shifts in the online and blended learning field, including a slowing of growth in fully online virtual schools compared to continuing rapid growth in blended learning models, the growth of students' ability choose their own online courses in some states, and the role of Common Core adoption as a vehicle for providers of online courses to have success in multiple states.

Further, while Evergreen Education Group founder John Watson says the report includes a greater volume of state policy changes to allow for online and blended learning options, it also finds that only Florida provides statewide policies that theoretically allows students a full range of fully virtual and blended options.

"The bottom line is, for so many students in so many states, their zip code still determines their educational opportunities," Watson said in a discussion here in New Orleans on Monday morning.

Florida has recently passed policies allowing students to enroll in the state's Florida Virtual School on a full- or part-time basis without going through their home district, as well as the implementation of an online course completion requirement for high school graduation.

The "Keeping Pace" insert on launching a program, titled "Planning for Quality," includes three timeline templates for beginning an online or blended program; an 18-month model for a districts or consortia that will create its own courses and use its own teachers; a 12-month approach for the launch of a program that uses courses from outside providers but educators from within the district, and a nine-month installation of a program using outside providers and instructors.

Evergreen's Butch Gemin and Chris Rapp stressed that those recommendations are widely flexible depending on any individual district or consortium's circumstances, which include: the time frame for the program's launch; its online, blended, or mixed structure; the organization overseeing the program; the kind of students being targeted; the size of the staff; and the size of the budget.

Determining the answers to those questions are among the first steps that Evergreen tackles when working with a client school or consortium in its role as an online education consulting group.

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