Because many of the laws regulating them are toothless—and because of an aggressive political effort to maintain that status quo.
This article is part of the Big Shortcut, an eight-part series exploring the exponential rise in online learning for high school students who have failed traditional classes.
An increasing number of states are getting serious about vetting the online education companies that are now responsible for instructing a growing number of their kids. And Florida, at first glance, would seem to be one of them.
Each year, state officials scrutinize these online courses to ensure they meet state academic standards, as well as several other criteria. Last year, the Florida Department of Education rejected the company Online Education Ventures, which failed to provide descriptions of its virtual courses in science, social studies, and English (it provided descriptions of the math courses, but they didn’t meet state standards). A year earlier, the state disqualified Mosaica Online because the company didn’t show it could provide timely information about its courses. And it said no to Odysseyware, since it failed to outline student anti-discrimination policies or show how its products could meet the needs of students with disabilities.
But here’s the rub: Those companies are still allowed to sell their products to schools in Florida. Public school districts can still use public money to educate students with discredited products like Online Education Ventures’. And the state says it has no idea how many of its 75 school districts—if any—are doing just that. “School districts may contract with any online course provider they wish to work with,” said Alix Miller, a department spokeswoman. Florida’s system for regulating online education looks like it has at least some rigor. In practice, it’s as thin as a sheet of loose-leaf paper.
Florida is one of a growing number of states that are starting to rate or review online course providers, offering a check on a booming industry that’s reshaping the nature of high school education nationally. But as in Florida, in most of these states the new rules have very little teeth. Local control reigns supreme.