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Rapid Growth in Virtual School Enrollment

According to a study conducted by the North American Council for Online Learning
(NACOL), student participation in online K-12 instruction has jumped by as much as
50% in the past year. With some 38 states and several private institutions
overseeing the creation and operation of new online schools, the future of virtual
education as a force to be reckoned with seems secure. The NACOL study, entitled
“Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning: A Review of State-Level Policy and
Practice,” examines state-funded online learning programs operational in 24 states
and evaluates the policies, funding models, training programs, and other factors
necessary to establish effective online learning environments.
Rapid growth in the online education sector has revealed some challenges
previously unaddressed, and NACOL explores various methods employed to ensure the
successful creation and continued development of online schooling. Despite the
strain on available programs due to surging demand, virtual institutions are
planning ahead: For instance, NACOL’s study mentions the issue of ensuring
instructors’ professional development, the establishment of oversight and program
accountability, the determination of appropriate standards of student performance,
and the use of the internet as a means of broadening students’ learning
opportunities.
Jamie Osborne, Headmaster of St. Mark’s Academy, an online Christian high school
slated to open in September of 2009, highlights the quality of online educators as
opposed to their traditional fellows: “The advantage of online schools is the
elimination of so much overhead inherent to a traditional brick-and-mortar
institution… there are no bus drivers, no cafeteria workers, no grounds
maintenance. The vast majority of our expenses go to finding well-qualified
instructors.”
“Online learning is opening access and opportunity for all students by providing
high-quality courses and highly qualified teachers over the internet--regardless
of their neighborhood or geography,” said Susan Patrick, NACOL president, at the
organization’s annual Virtual Learning Symposium. Patrick was formerly the
director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology,
where in 2005 she was instrumental in publishing the current National Educational
Technology Plan.
In conjunction with NACOL, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)—a Washington,
D.C.-based advocacy group focused on better preparing students for the challenges
of the new global economy—has released a report suggesting online students, by
virtue of the nature of their education, are better prepared for entry into a
modern technology-laden workforce.