Report Details State of Online Learning for Students With Disabilities


A new report from the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities takes a closer look at the online education policies in place in all 50 states and 5 US territories in an effort to determine how best to improve online and blended learning for all students.

The report, “Equity Matters: Digital and Online Learning for Students with Disabilities,” focuses on online and blended learning for students with disabilities.  The five chapters contained within its pages discusses transformative change, offers an overview of policy throughout the 50 states and five territories pertaining to online learning for students with disabilities.  It also analyzes special education online, the changing structure and roles within education, as well as access to online education and issues concerning data and privacy, and graduation.

The center hopes the report will offer an understanding of what is happening with online education across the country, particularly with concern for students with disabilities.  The report, available online, is meant to be used by educators, administrators, parents, policy makers and all stakeholders in education.

“We know from our research that there are still many involved in K-12 education that don’t know this is taking place. So in the first chapter we include a foundational understanding of the field,” said James Basham, associate professor of special education at KU and one of the report’s lead authors.

The second chapter of the study looks at policies pertaining to online education and whether they take students with disabilities into consideration.  Policies at both the federal and state level have a direct influence over student learning.  Nine questions were asked by researchers on the topic, finding that many states do not in fact consider the needs of students with disabilities when creating their online learning policies.

“While many states know this imbalance is going on, some don’t. And most states don’t have well-defined policies on making this work for students with disabilities,” Basham said. “But almost all states have some sort of online learning happening.”

The report goes on to consider the changing role of educators in the online learning environment, finding that 80% of students learning in a virtual school or online environment are doing so because they are unhappy with traditional brick and mortar schools.  According to the authors, the majority of those cases see the parent acting as educator.

Researchers suggest a special database be created that would list accredited online schools in order to help students and parents.  Companies may create online schools that do not meet state learning standards, or parents may not be aware that the school does not meet accreditation standards, as many competitive education services do not freely offer such data in an effort to avoid litigation.

Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education, the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities is a partnership of the Center for Research on Learning, the Center for Applied Special Technology and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.