Continuing where we left off, here’s more from John Watson’s Keeping Pace presentation.

Much of the Keeping Pace report covers territory addressed by the Trujillo Commission on Online Education in its final findings and recommendations report issued ten days ago. The Trujillo Commission was convened by the Donnell-Kay Foundation to consider issues in K-12 online education raised by Colorado’s state auditor, and to recommend policy steps. John Watson was not formally part of the commission but was engaged to consult and assist. They began by identifying a series of "first principles" to ground their work:

  • Public education should include a variety of high quality educational options for students, including online learning.
  • Students across the state should have equal access to these opportunities.
  • Online programs should include both full-time and supplemental opportunities for students.
  • Ongoing innovation requires that states and oversight agencies not
    stifle innovation by becoming overly prescriptive in regulating online
  • Teachers are an integral part of online learning.
  • The involvement of a parent or other responsible adult in the education of a student is to be encouraged.
  • Online programs must use high quality curricula aligned with state and applicable district standards.
  • Some statewide education policies, requirements, and oversight do
    not fit online programs. New online education policy should address
    these inconsistencies directly.
  • Online programs offer the opportunity to transcend time and place.
    They should not be subject to state education policies that impose
    barriers of time and place.
  • Resources to support online programs must be sufficient to ensure
    quality, innovation possibilities, and meet the needs of a broad range
    of students.

Your list of first principles may or may not coincide with this one, but it’s not a bad place to start the conversation. During the presentation Q & A, one attendee posed a scenario:

Your district has just tasked you with starting an online program from scratch. "We need an online program. . . now GO."  For those of us who’ve just been given the "Now GO" directive, what critical questions should we be asking? Where do we begin?

One way to answer this question is to figure out what first principles your district holds dear.

Interesting sidebar from the presentation: John said the Trujillo Commission was motivated to avoid potential backlash caused by online programs and practice creeping (or charging) ahead of policy. Wisdom born of hard experience, perhaps. He noted this from the 2001 NASBE e-learning report Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace: Taking the Lead on E-Learning Policy:

Rapidly moving trends are outpacing the ability of policymakers to keep up. In the absence of firm policy guidance, the nation is rushing pell-mell toward an ad hoc system of education that exacerbates existing disparities and cannot assure a high standard of education across new modes of instruction.

How times change. Following up this grim assessment is a partly cloudy forecast from the 2005 Keeping Pace report conclusion:

In 2004, based on a review of 11 states, Keeping Pace reported that the long-term sustainability of online education is threatened by the ad hoc manner in which online learning is developing. . . . The research in 2005 extending to all 50 states gives cause for both concern and optimism.

The 2006 Keeping Pace conclusion’s outlook is rosier yet:

In viewing the status of online education across the country at the end of 2006, the opportunities for optimism outnumber the causes of concern. Numerous states have added state-led programs, and created new online education policies. Online education is growing, expanding access to all students, exposing students to 21st century skills, and providing highly qualified teachers in areas of need. The barriers of outdated policies still exist in many places, and the obstacles to removing them persist, but the momentum toward new and smarter policies and programs is strong.

This is an optimistic assessment, but the hard work of putting our Minnesota online learning house in order continues/remains. It’s encouraging that there are positive voices out there giving their four-and-a-half minutes of legislative testimony.