In January, California’s Governor Brown supported new regulations to allow K-12 charters and districts to collect Average Daily Attendance (ADA) for students who are taking asynchronous online courses. This was a giant step forward as I shared earlier. In his State-of-the-State address, Governor Brown proposed “statutory changes that will enable school districts to offer asynchronous online courses through a streamlined and outcome‑focused independent study agreement.”
And then the statutory changes came.
The current “Trailer Bill” language for all educational changes is currently posted on the Department of Finance (DoF) site.
Sections 13 and 14 provide insight regarding the Governor’s vision and the DoF’s proposed language to implement it. The first change we’ve noticed is that online instruction (or eLearning) is now consistently referred to as “technology-based synchronous instruction” or “technology-based asynchronous instruction.” While the former definition might apply to any face-to-face classroom with lessons that are technology-enhanced, the trailer bill does define the term later.
“For the purposes of this section, “technology-based asynchronous instruction” means a class or course in which the pupil and the certificated employee who is providing instruction may be online at different times allowing pupils and certified employees to participate according to their own schedules. “
Section 14, which outlines the Governor’s vision, provides specific guidelines, one of which could drive a knife into eLearning’s heart.
1. There should be periodic contact between teachers and students to determine they are making adequate progress.
If students aren’t progressing satisfactorily, instructors “shall” contact the student’s parent or guardian. “An evaluation shall be conducted” to determine if the student should remain in the online course.
2. Each student would sign a written agreement before they could participate in an online course. The agreement would include:
a. policies that specify periodic contact between students and teachers and outlines the accountability measures/assessments that will be used to determine satisfactory progress.
b. The agreement’s duration.
c. The credits the student would receive upon successful course completion.
d. A statement that students are not required to take the online course.
3. Districts must keep written or electronic documentation that demonstrates satisfactory progress.
4. Students with “exceptional needs” may take an online course only if their IEP provides for participation.
5. The district shall not deny enrollment based solely on the student’s lack of access to computer hardware or software. If the student chooses to take an online course, and they don’t have the necessary hardware/software, the district shall provide them.
6. Online courses must be approved the local district’s school board as “rigorous as a classroom-based courses and meet or exceed all relevant state content standards.”
Number Five could prove to be problematic. While we understand the need to provide equal access to resources to all students, it appears the state is applying the Williams Act criteria to all students in all situations. Given that student participation in online courses is voluntary, providing both the computer and software for any student who choses to take an online course could, potentially, be the policy that closes the eLearning door for all students. That is, if a district can’t afford a 1:1 program for all students learning online, then no students may learn online.
And that would certainly slow online learning’s growth.
The Governor’s other trailer bill eliminates CLRN from the Education Code, the only agency that reviews online courses for their alignment to both content standards and to national standards for quality online courses. But then, that’s another post.