Last week at the iNacol conference, the Evergreen Education Group released the 2013 edition of “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice.” This is the tenth annual report examining the status of K-12 online learning across the country, including the latest policies, practices, and trends. This year, AVI CHAI participated in the sponsorship of the report. We wanted to begin to look at how private schools are adopting blended and online learning and also how the states are accommodating private school students.
As “Keeping Pace” reports, private schools have been slower to jump on the blended/online learning bandwagon for several reasons. Especially when the field was originally more focused on online learning, many private schools did not understand its benefits to their milieu. Most of their students are high-performing; they already can offer varied classes; and they pride themselves on the high caliber of their teaching staff. Additionally, private school parents often questioned why their children would be learning from the same computer-based courses that public school students were taking.
But that has begun to change. As the benefits of data collection and personalized learning have become a larger piece of the story and as the blended learning model has been on the rise, private schools have begun to adopt these methodologies as well. They can tailor blended and online learning to suit their needs and to expand their course offerings, even while teachers remain crucial to the instruction.
We are beginning to see organizations like the National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS) discuss the issue and point to exemplars among their ranks. The Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools took place for the first time in 2013. There are consortia forming of independent schools as well.
Parochial schools are exploring this model for an additional reason: cost-savings and affordability. Both Catholic and Jewish schools have begun to implement blended learning to improve instruction while reducing their costs.
The cost savings is derived from increasing the student/teacher ratio. This means fewer teachers handle more students as they rotate between face-to-face and online activities. Schools can eliminate small sized “sections” within one subject area, or use online learning for classes with few students. We believe that this new model could eventually lead to a 15% reduction in costs, which can translate to tuition savings.
Schools may also be able to use online learning to attract families that were not attending either because their child‘s special needs were not adequately addressed or perhaps because the course catalog offered by the school was not broad enough. These families bring additional income.
The most cost-savings will come from enrolling in state funded programs. In the Jewish day school context, students could be enrolled in general studies courses. The possibility of this option varies according to state policy. This year’s “Keeping Pace” report provides in-depth profiles on online/blended learning in each state, including state policies regarding private school students. Currently only eight states have supplemental programs that allow private school students to enroll, while 21 states do not. In the remaining states, there are some state-supported online course options, but on a school-by-school or program basis instead of state policy. There are also many nuances to the issue. For instance, sometimes students are allowed to take courses, but for a fee. In other cases, students need to become “public school students” on the roster in order to enroll and are then included in state-reported numbers of public school students, making it difficult to determine how many independent school students are taking publicly funded courses.
The full “Keeping Pace” report, available here, allows readers to find information specific to their state. In addition, information about online/blended learning in private schools is available on the AVI CHAI site. We hope that various sectors will learn from one another’s experiences as this new area of the field continues to develop.
Rachel Mohl Abrahams is Senior Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundatio