School Choice Supports Whole Child Development

As a former Arizona State Senator, longtime advocate for children, families, and education, and as a mother, I know the important role that parents play in embracing school choice that supports whole child development. And as a board member at the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, I believe an essential part of school choice is the ability for parents to opt into educational methodologies that better suit the specific needs of their children.

Why emphasize whole child development? It overcomes the limitations of traditional and standardized classroom learning. It promotes better retention of knowledge and skills through creative engagement. It goes beyond the academic needs of a child toward cultivating their entire social emotional well-being.

As a result, students achieve a higher degree of success, and experience improved long-term outcomes.

School choice is vital in empowering our children to develop holistically, rather than aiming to become merely good students or high achievers. When parents support school choice, they become advocates for the overall well being of society, not just for their own children. Students who have access to schools that provide flexible learning arrangements obtain more than an education: they gain crucial social skills and critical thinking abilities that enable them to grow into engaged citizens.

A key part of school choice is the availability of blended and online learning options. The innovative use of technology in both physical and virtual classrooms allows educators to provide a customized curriculum that better fits the needs of individual students. It enables schools to adapt to any requirements a student may have for an adjusted pace of learning, address the safety concerns of parents, and provide students with physical disabilities or mental health issues with equal access to a high-quality education.

I am pleased to support FBOL’s mission to advance and improve the availability and quality of blended and online educational opportunities, and see this as a natural extension of my lifelong commitment to advocacy through public service. Through our Student Scholarship Program, Innovative Educator Grants and original research, we promote the right of parents to make school choices that create better futures for their children—not just better classrooms.

Bridging the Educational Gap for Rural Students

A significant gap in K-12 educational options exists in our country, as evidenced by the disparities in curricula and resources currently offered by schools across America.

Geographic location should not, however, impede the access that students have to a variety of disciplines and types of learning methodologies that best suit their educational needs. We need to increase equity in educational opportunities for all students, including those from outside major metropolitan areas.

As U.S. Secretary of Education, it was my duty to raise national standards of educational excellence. I believe in parental choice in schooling options, which began with my strong support for charter schools when serving as Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. Key to the success of charter schools is the broad powers they are granted to make decisions regarding textbooks and other learning materials, and blended and online learning are natural extensions of this mission: to ensure that no child is left behind through innovative education.

The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning team believes that equal learning opportunities should be available to K-12 students from anywhere—including rural areas. In 2017, 16 of the 30 recent high school graduates we awarded scholarships to hailed from small towns in Arkansas, Idaho, and West Virginia. Each of these students completed a program of study that includes blended or fully online courses.

These programs have the potential to close the opportunity gaps that persist for historically underserved students. The thoughtful integration of technology enables schools outside of major metropolitan areas to provide access to the best teachers in high-demand subjects as well as top-rate curriculum and content. As a result, high school students from rural areas can now embark upon a more level playing field in their post-secondary education and professional pursuits.

But in order to succeed in this mission, we need to involve educators just as much as students. To that end, our Innovative Educator Program provides grants to support teachers in developing practices or programs that overcome achievement gaps, drive engagement, and personalize learning for their students.

I am privileged to serve on the board of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, and to support its mission to advance and improve the availability and quality of blended and online educational opportunities for students and teachers.

Six Myths (and Realities) of Online Learning

Online and blended learning are being embraced by many schools and states, as discussed in our recent reports Why Do Students Choose Blended and Online Schools? and Teaching with Technology: Educators’ Perspectives and Recommendations for Successful Blended Instructional Strategies.

Despite the growth of online and blended learning—and even though digital learning has been offered in schools for decades—several myths surrounding its benefits and challenges persist. Educators who are experienced with digital learning understand most of these myths to be incorrect, but they persist in the media among both advocates and critics. This post attempts to dispel six of the most common misconceptions, adding a dose of reality to each. Read on to see if you’ve heard (or have bought into) any of the following ideas, or feel free to share your own in the comments section below.

Myth #1 Digital learning is exploding, and private companies are driving the adoption of online and blended learning.

Reality Digital learning is growing, but not ‘exploding,’ and is being driven just as much by innovative schools, districts, and states as by private providers.

Good data is hard to find, which is why the ‘exploding’ narrative is so often accepted without challenge. But a recent NCES report suggests that only 21% of US high schools offer online courses, which hardly seems like the outcome of fast growth two decades after online courses were first introduced. Similarly, the population of students attending fully online schools appea rs to be somewhere around 500,000, and growing at single-digit rates.

Private providers supply a mix of online courses, teachers, content, and technology. But the large majority of online and blended learning is in schools operated through traditional structures, or in nonprofit charter schools.

Myth #2 Teachers are being replaced by technology.

Reality There is no sign that technology is replacing or will never replace teachers, despite its advances. In Evergreen’s 17 years of working in this field, we have seen no sustainable, scalable examples of education technology without teachers being extensively involved in critical roles. [···]

Choice, Voice, and Access: Why We Support Blended & Online Learning

By all accounts, we live in an exciting time for American K-12 education.

Are there major challenges? Absolutely. Do we face real inequities inside and outside the classroom? Yes, in many instances, we do. Are some students underperforming? Yes. Are some schools under-providing? Again, yes. Are governmental policies falling short? In some cases, yes.

After reading that, you may wonder why I’m so optimistic. You see, it’s my belief that we’ve never before been poised for the kind of greatness that is achievable now.

Teachers and students have access to extraordinary tools that are shifting the way they teach and learn; school leaders across the country are designing and implementing new models and methods. They’re looking at architecture and infrastructure first, and are asking how these can serve the stakeholders involved, rather than the other way around.

Parents and communities are seeking help, and are organizing among themselves to provide supports of their own when it comes to school choice and voicing their children’s educational needs. There’s a greater sense of connection between the institution of education, and the individuals who ought to benefit from it. [···]

Why Are K-12 Students Choosing Blended and Online Learning?

The start of a new school year is a big milestone that parents and their students have marked over the past two months. For some, this transition hasn’t involved a school bus or a celebratory drop-off. The first day of school for a full time online student doesn’t require transportation of any kind, or even a journey beyond their living room. A growing number of K-12 students across the United States have embraced online learning programs that allow them to study at their own pace and offer the flexibility to explore their talents and passions while continuing their education, Others have begun to experience blended learning programs that combine face-to-face instruction with online learning to provide a more personalized academic path.

In these environments, students are moving at their own pace, applying contemporary technology skills and accessing courses that may not be readily available within their local districts. Their reasons for doing so are as diverse as their individual profiles, and in many cases, involve some overlap. A few examples include:

  • Pace: Some students may have been struggling academically in a traditional setting, while others felt they simply weren’t challenged enough by existing curricula;
  • Future-focused: Some students wanted to earn college credits more easily during high school, while others desired to combine studies toward a trade or vocation;
  • Safety: Some students may have had a difficult experience with bullying, and wanted to learn in a more welcoming environment, while others may live in dangerous areas and wanted to avoid in-school violence.
  • Flexibility: Some students may have outside interests that require more flexibility than a traditional school day allows, while others may be coping with challenging life changes and need.
  • Health: Some students may have a physical disability and find alternative learning environments more accommodating, while others may have mental health issues that make alternative programs a better option.

As illustrated by the variety of reasons students select these programs, there is no ‘typical’ online or blended learning student. [···]

Bringing My K-12 School into the 21st Century

The Impact of Receiving an Innovative Educator Grant

Similar to our students’ educational journeys, our professional paths can often take surprising turns. My career in education began 15 years ago as a librarian; since that time, I have worked as a teacher from elementary through 12th grade, served as a school administrator, earned a master’s degree, am completing my Ed.D, and have fallen in love with blended and project-based learning. Today, I am a fourth grade teacher and Blended Learning Coach at Saint Dominic Academy in Lewiston, Maine.

In 2016, I was lucky enough to come across The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning in a web search, and decided to apply for an Innovative Educator Grant to get blended and online learning going in Catholic schools in Maine. Of course I would want to start with my own school to create a replicable model.

After submitting my application, I put the grant on the back burner figuring that I’d be one of many individuals who’d conceivably be qualified recipients. You could imagine my excitement when I received the letter informing me that I was one of those selected for the 2016 grant — more than that, I had received the full asking amount of $10,000 to begin my journey into the implementation of blended and online learning!

That moment of realization that you now have the means to make changes for the better for many, many others is an incredibly powerful one. I can still recall staring at the words on the page in happy disbelief. [···]

Our 2017 Scholarship Recipients: Independent, Hardworking, Creative & Inspiring

“I definitely feel prepared to take on the college world and I wouldn’t trade this experience for any other.”

The feedback we’ve received from students in blended and online learning programs says it all: autonomy, variety, pacing and a personalized approach has changed their lives.

We’re thrilled to continue to be a part of this movement. This fall, 30 members of the Class of 2017 will have additional support for their endeavors in a four- or two- year college or vocational training program.

They’re part of our most recent Student Scholarship cohort, which we announced with much excitement; these high school graduates represent 14 states across the U.S. and a wide variety of academic and extracurricular interests.

They come from traditional public schools, charter schools and private institutions; some have learned in a hybridized blended/face-to-face program, while others have studied entirely online. Here are just a few things they had to say about the experience:

“Online learning gave me the opportunity to take education into my own hands; it has also given me the freedom to study where I want.”

“I did projects differently and did assignments in a totally different way, and was stretched as an individual.”

“Both of my online classes rebuilt my confidence in myself, and my ability to learn complex ideas quickly.”

Soon, we’ll kick off a series of posts featuring their inspiring stories and videos right here on the blog.

Meanwhile, recognizing the hard work and creativity of students from all kinds of communities and educational backgrounds is also incredibly rewarding for our team. [···]

2016 Student Scholar: Ericka Woods | Do What You Love

Our 2016 Student Scholarship Program recipients represent every corner of the country. From big cities to small towns, they attended a variety of schools and are exploring a wide range of academic, professional, and personal interests. A common trait we found among many of them, however, is a fondness for studying in their pajamas (just as is true of their brick-and-mortar peers). While we don’t count “pajama appropriate” chief among the benefits of online learning, we must admit that there is some appeal there.

While online students can choose to take classes in their pajamas, they still have to get their work completed. PJs or jacket and tie, it’s up to them to make it happen. Self-discipline and initiative are required to succeed in an online learning environment. The characteristics that support achievement in an online school often lead to significant personal and academic growth, and are life skills they will carry forever.

2016 scholarship recipient Ericka Woods shares this in a video clip below.

We are so proud to support Ericka’s future aspirations, which include getting her purple pride on at Northwestern University. She also offers some good advice for up and coming high school students: “Don’t stress out too much. Do what you can do. Do what you like to do. I promise you it will pay off in the end.” Northwestern is lucky to have you, Ericka!

Please share with your network via Twitter using: @NorthwesternU @K12Learn @FoundationBOL #onlinelearning

Ericka Woods | Chicago Virtual Charter School | Chicago, IL

2016 Student Scholar: Austin Bowers | Cars, Creativity, and Career Paths

In August, we announced the winners of our 2016 Student Scholarship Program. As part of the application process, students were asked to submit videos and essays to share how studying in blended and online learning environments has impacted their academic journey. Over the next several weeks, we are proud to share these student insights with you here and via social media. We launch this series with scholar Austin Bower’s story as he heads off to Weber State in Ogden, UT.

Please share with your network via Twitter using: @WeberStateU @CareerPathHigh @FoundationBOL #blendedlearning

Austin Bowers | Career Path High | Utah

2016 Student Scholarship Spotlight

Last month, the foundation announced that thirty-one recent graduates from a variety of online and blended high school programs would be recipients of post-secondary financial support through our 2016 Student Scholarship Program. Scholarship recipients represent more than twenty-one states around the country, attended a mix of traditional public, public charter, and private schools, and have plans to matriculate to a wide range of 2-year, 4-year, and vocational schools to continue their personalized educational journeys.

As our executive director, Amy Valentine, stated in remarks at a Washington, DC reception celebrating the scholarship winners:

It is a privilege to recognize the incredible achievements of our first cohort of scholarship winners and to support their future academic pursuits. Having taken the road less traveled through online and blended learning opportunities, these young scholars are poised to tackle the next phase of their schooling with focus and determination.

We are proud to share with you a video featuring a number of our 2016 scholars, in their own words: