North America and K-12 Online Learning
Susan Patrick, iNACOL, USA
Summary of presentation
Susan began her presentation by describing iNACOL as an organisation, the 4000 members it supports and the focus of its work which is largely on policy and quality. Although largely based in the US, iNACOL also has sizable membership in Canada and Mexico as well as from around the world, however for most of her presentation she focussed on virtual schooling in the US.
She described education in the US generally and relative independence of the country’s 15,000 school districts which are each allowed in general terms to do as they wish. Online learning is increasing hugely in the US with a 30% annual growth across the states for the past 10 years. The level of virtual school provision across the US is quite uneven and varies greatly from place to place with school districts, states, universities and private providers all now running virtual schools.
In Susan’s opinion the current provision is only scratching the service from a student demand point of view, and is set for significant future growth. Every state funds virtual schooling differently and about half of the school districts cover some form of online learning. Susan argued that the single most important factor in terms of success of virtual schools for iNACOL is the teacher and the people involved. She described the main drivers in the US which include credit recovery which is important. Other factors which are driving this growth in virtual schooling in the US are shortages in the curriculum, teacher shortages especially in STEM subjects and foreign languages and the importance of providing equity in terms of access to educational opportunities.
The initial impetus in many places came from the need to provide virtual schooling for gifted children but now there is a huge variety of students involved including those that are medically fragile or those for whom the system didn’t work or those in rural communities. The trends highlighted by Susan in her presentation are that mobile learning is taking off and the increasing importance of partnerships. She also sees an increased interest in project based learning. The 2 biggest challenges she described were that teacher training colleges are not generally training teachers to teach online and the second is around policy and the different funding models that exist in the US.
She finished by saying that one really effective way to counter the common scientism that exists around the notion of virtual schooling is to highlight, support and promote the role of the teacher in the mix.