Back in 2011, the Florida legislature decreed that every student must pass an online course as a graduation requirement. Was this decision based on research about the value of online learning? No. It was justified as a means of readying all students for an online workplace but there is as yet no solid evidence that students learn better online. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the legislature’s mandate coincided with former Governor Jeb Bush’s determination that digital learning was the wave of the future; Jeb launched a national campaign, well funded by the technology industry, to promote digital learning, including a high school graduation requirement to take at least one or two courses online or no diploma. Six states have since adopted Jeb’s propsal and require students to take at least one course online as a graduation requirement. That sold a lot of new hardware and software but there is still no evidence of its necessity or value.
The Orlando Sentinel found that many seniors are familiar with digital technology but they have not met their graduation requirement:
“More than 11,000 Central Florida 11th-graders — about 43 percent of the region’s juniors — have not yet passed an online course, even though they must do that to earn a diploma next year. The class of 2015 is the first to fall under the online-learning requirements the state adopted four years ago.
“Spencer Thompson, 16, met the requirement at his parents’ insistence, but he isn’t surprised many classmates have not.
“I think it’s forcing a lot of kids to do something they don’t want to do,” said the junior at Hagerty High School in Seminole County.
“Some teenagers think they learn better with an in-person teacher, Spencer said, and some have found it a hassle to fit an online course into their schedule. Online courses, he added, are a useful option — he’s taking a virtual math class next year — but shouldn’t be required.”
Now districts are scrambling to find ways to help students meet the requirement for virtual coursework. “Orange, Seminole and Volusia schools next school year will enroll any 12th-grader who hasn’t taken an online class in new “blended learning” economics or government courses.
“These courses will be taught during the school day, with a teacher at the helm, but at least 50 percent of their lessons — enough to meet the state’s requirement — will be delivered via computer. Because economics and government both are required for graduation and typically taken senior year, administrators have a captive audience and a way to make sure students meet the online rule.”
Some students don’t have a computer or Internet access at home. Some prefer face-to-face interaction with a teacher. For a time, students took their drivers education courses online, but “the Legislature later decided that would not count for the graduation rule.
“This year, lawmakers reversed themselves, so if Gov. Rick Scott signs the latest bill, starting in July students can again use an online driver’s education class to help earn their diploma.”
Really, it shouldn’t matter what course the student takes as long as the purpose of the mandate is filled: to divert more public money to private vendors.
In Maine, Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” campaign stalled when a local reporter wrote an award-winning story about the money trail connecting Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence, the tech vendors, and Maine politicians.