A growing number of states and school districts are adding an online education requirement for students en route to a high school diploma. According to U.S. News & World Report, as the number of K-12 students taking online courses is increasing, so is the number of states that make taking at least one online course mandatory for graduation.
Nearly 620,000 students took at least one class online during the last academic year, according to the data collected by the Evergreen Education Group. Over the same period, three states put online learning-related laws on the book. High schoolers in Virginia and Idaho will now have an online course requirement listed in their graduation criteria, while those in Minnesota will have language "strongly recommending" enrolling in an internet-based class written into theirs.
Alabama, Florida, and Michigan already have laws on the books requiring virtual education for graduation, and school boards in multiple districts have enacted similar provisions, including Marietta City Schools in Georgia, Memphis City Schools and Putnam County Schools in Tennessee, and the Kenosha and Cedarburg School Districts in Wisconsin. For officials in those states and districts, requiring online courses for graduation is a necessary step toward college and career readiness.
Kathleen Airhart, the deputy commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education, explained that having students experience the online learning environment will serve them well once they leave their high school for college. The recent growth of online learning at the college level, encouraged by the popularity of massive online open courses, makes it a virtual certainty that no matter where a student chooses to pursue their post-secondary education – be it a four-year college, community college or a technical school – they will have to take at least one of their courses online.
Still, some are raising questions about the methods used by states to make sure that students get that experience while still in high school. Amy Murin, Evergreen's lead researcher, believes that writing the online course requirement into law might be too aggressive.
"It depends on how [the laws are] implemented. It depends on what kind of access students have to different providers in the state," she says. "I would argue that Florida is positioned the best of any state in the country, simply because they have so many providers functioning in the state."
Florida, which has been experimenting with different approaches to learning ever since former Governor Jeb Bush's administration prioritized education reform, gives its students a number of ways to fulfill an online education requirement. High school students can choose the state's own virtual academy, a program offered by a number of virtual charter schools, or even take advantage of an option offered by their local school district.