U.S. Education Department infers policymakers lack data for online education at the K-12 level

Step into the 21st Century.

That is the central message of a new piece of legislation Sen. BL “Buddy” Shaw (R-Shreveport) is sponsoring, to allow school officials greater flexibility to offer online classes to high school students. Senate Bill (SB 46) would create a virtual school within the Louisiana Department of Education that offers technology-based learning experiences which augment traditional classroom settings.

“The Louisiana Virtual School… expands learning opportunities to high school students through courses of study that may not otherwise be available to them and offers access to a full menu of standards-based, online courses of study in subjects which are delivered by certified teachers using the Internet, electronic mail, and other online resources,” the bill says.

Sen. Gerald Long (R-Winnfield) has been the major driving force behind the legislation. Long believes online instruction can help “level the playing field” for all of Louisiana’s students. In too many instances, he adds, students are denied access to curriculum necessary for high school graduation and for college preparation.

“I think this is going to be a very popular bill in both the House and Senate… Any class not offered at a particular school can be taken online, and this will make a big difference.”

Sen. Shaw sponsored the bill as a courtesy since Long’s legislative schedule was already full. But he is also keen on the concept.

“We are talking about a potentially radical change to the way we deliver education, and it will take time to see how it plays out,” Shaw says. “But I think the concept here is a good one. Online instruction is new and different, but I think we should give this a try for those same reasons.”

Louisiana would be entering uncharted territory.

While online classes can benefit college students, there has been scarce research done at the K-12 level, a 2009 U.S. of Education study concluded. The inference was that there is not enough data available to show that online instruction would be of net benefit to the high school students SB 46 targets.

Ken Bradford, Director of Educational Technology at the Louisiana Department of Education, disagrees and points to a subsequent U.S. Department of Education study in 2010 as evidence that Louisiana Virtual Schools (LVS) can perform effectively. The study included research-based summaries of effective online education initiatives, and highlighted the LVS algebra program as an example of a valuable online program.

SB 46 is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at kmooney@pelicanpolicy.org. Follow him on Twitter.