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THE ONLINE LEARNING IMPERATIVE: New Alliance Brief Says Online Learning Can Combat “Perfect Storm” of Teacher Shortages, State Budget Shortfalls, and Low Student Achievement

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“Just as the internet has transformed how people receive information, interact, and conduct business, online education can positively revamp how students learn, whether by offering advanced coursework or by delivering a wide range of educational tools.”

A new brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education details how the integral use of online technology in today’s secondary school classrooms can strengthen the teacher workforce, improve student outcomes, and allow states to do more despite flat education budgets.

“Just as the internet has transformed how people receive information, interact, and conduct business, online education can positively revamp how students learn, whether by offering advanced coursework or by delivering a wide range of educational tools,” said Alliance President Bob Wise, who authored the report. “Education has trailed most other sectors in effectively applying new technologies to boost productivity and outcomes, but now is the time to move from thinking about technology as an add-on tool to ensuring that it is integrated into all educational settings.”

According to the brief, The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education, state and local public officials are faced with stark realities that will force major changes in traditional education processes, especially for middle and high schools. This educational “perfect storm” includes:

  • Global skill demands vs. educational achievement. At present, the nation cannot meet President Obama’s goals for college completion without dramatically improving the quality of learning in secondary schools. Even improving high school graduation rates will not result in achieving much greater postsecondary achievement unless students are better prepared in high school.
  • The funding cliff. The current recession will not permit continued education spending increases for most states. As a result, state policymakers and education leaders will be challenged with raising student performance while dealing with tightening budgets.
  • Looming teacher shortages. Placing high performing teachers in thousands of low performing classrooms becomes even more difficult due to large-scale retirements of experienced teachers in the coming years as well as low retention rates for new educators.

“To overcome these obstacles, the nation’s education system cannot continue to conduct business as usual,” said Wise. “Online learning offers one solution to these crises. Whether used in a virtual school or a classroom, it is a smart investment for states facing budget dilemmas. If there is a shortage of quality teachers, technology can help fill that gap by granting students in Pensacola access to effective teachers in Palm Beach, Portland, or even Paris. Teachers can also build their networks of support and advance in their profession by connecting with board certified ‘virtual coaches’ and other online resources.”

According to The Online Imperative, whether the setting is a virtual school or blending online instruction with a teacher in a classroom, student learning shows improvement. The brief cites a 2009 U.S. Department of Education study that found students who took all or part of their classes online did better than students in face-to-face classrooms, and that the advantage was stronger in blended classrooms than in online-only classrooms. The Alliance brief also argues that policymakers can reasonably hold online educators to higher learning standards than they can traditional educators.

With almost every state facing budget shortfalls, the Alliance brief also points to how online instruction can positively affect the states’ financial bottom lines and student performance. For example, rather than paying three Chinese language instructors to teach a limited number of students in three different schools, one instructor could teach all the students through online instruction and students would no longer be bound by rigid time schedules.

To read the full report, visit here.

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