California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Related to K-12 Online Education in California

Online education is teacher-led education that takes place over the Internet, with the teacher and student separated geographically. Students have direct interaction with the teacher of the course using electronic means, and a learning management system is used to provide a structured learning environment. Online education is one form of distance learning.1 The term “online education” does not include stand-alone educational software programs that do not have direct student-teacher interaction. Online education is also referred to as online learning, virtual learning, or cyberlearning.

California Directory of Online Schools and Programs: The directory, compiled by the California Department of Education (CDE), includes a list of K–12 schools that have a substantial online presence (offering at least 30 percent of their instruction online). Each school’s information includes the grade levels and counties served, curriculum (name[s] of the online provider[s] used), and contact information. The directory will be updated annually. Parents/guardians, students, and interested parties are encouraged to contact schools, district offices, and/or county offices of education to inquire about the availability and suitability of online courses, as well as enrollment options.

The directory does not currently have a list of adult schools that offer online education. Students over 18 years of age who want to finish their high school diploma online are encouraged to visit the California Adult Education Provider Directory (Outside Source) to locate local adult schools and find out about online high school completion options. Also, a list of General Education Development (GED) testing centers is available on the CDE’s Local Test Centers by City Web page.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Online Education
  1. Where can definitions of common online education terms be found?
  2. How does online education work?
  3. What are the different kinds of online courses?
  4. How do students interact with teachers and with other students in online education?
  5. What are some advantages of online education?
Ways That Online Education is Offered in California
  1. Where should a school or district start when deciding to provide online courses to its students?
  2. If a district wants to provide online courses to its students, what options are available?
  3. If a school does not offer online courses, how can students access online courses offered by another institution?
  4. What is involved in transferring to another school to access online courses?
Quality Indicators for Online Education
  1. Are there quality indicators for online education?
    a. What are the characteristics of high quality online courses?
    b. What are the characteristics of high quality online teachers?
    c. What are some student-specific requirements for success in online education?
    d. Have standards been developed for online administrators?
  2. What policies does the University of California (UC) have regarding acceptance of online courses for UC/California State University (CSU) admissions?
  3. Which online high schools are accredited by the state of California?
  4. What does the research say about student achievement in an online environment as compared with a traditional classroom environment?

Additional Questions Specifically for Parents/Guardians

My Student and Online Education
  1. How can I tell if my student would be successful in an online environment?
  2. How can I find online options?
  3. Should I check with my local school district?
  4. What questions should I ask?
The Role of Parents/Guardians
  1. What are the expectations for parents/guardians when their children take online courses?
  2. Does parent/guardian participation vary by grade level?
  3. What is the role of the parent/guardian as a learning coach?
  4. What if both parents/guardians work?
  5. How often will I have to take my child to school?
  6. What tools are available for parents/guardians to ensure that their students are completing assignments and mastery assessments?

Additional Questions Specifically for Educators

Technology Requirements for Online Education
  1. What hardware, software, Internet components, technical support, and training are necessary to provide quality online education?
  2. What are the UC requirements for certified providers of online high school courses related to a learning management system (LMS) (also called course management system [CMS])?
  3. What tools are available for parents/guardians, students, teachers, and administrators to ensure that students are completing assignments and mastery assessments?
  4. What support is available for districts and schools as they begin providing online courses?
School District Policies Needed to Implement a Successful Online Education Program
  1. Are there any national or international policy guidelines for online education?
  2. Which California Education Code policies guide online education?
  3. What attendance policies affect online education?
  4. Are all online teachers counted when calculating the teacher-to-student average daily attendance ratio?
  5. How do independent study policies relate to online education?
  6. How do schools determine high school credits for an online course?

Associations that Promote Online Education

  1. Which associations promote online education?

GENERAL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Online Education
  1. Where can definitions of common online education terms be found?

The Glossary of Terms Related to Online Education provides definitions for common online education terms.

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  1. How does online education work?

Online courses are delivered by means of a software package called a learning management system (LMS) which includes communication tools, instructional tools, assessment features, and software for creating and editing course content. The type of online course will determine the ways in which students communicate with their teachers and with other students. The following questions and answers provide additional information on the way online education works in different settings.

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  1. What are the different kinds of online courses?

    1. Online courses differ by type of delivery. There are three types of online education delivery:

      1. Asynchronous: In online education, the term “asynchronous” means teacher-student interaction that does not occur at the same time. Asynchronous communication is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing students and teachers to participate according to their own schedules. Asynchronous programs also may incorporate synchronous (real-time) communication.

      2. Synchronous: The term “synchronous” refers to events that occur at the same time. In synchronous online programs, students and the teacher are online at the same time for class sessions and “use real-time Internet-based software.” Synchronous programs may also use asynchronous means of communication outside of class sessions.2

      3. Blended (or hybrid): Online courses can be fully online or they can be blended courses. Blended courses provide a combination of online delivery and supervised face-to-face sessions at a physical site away from home. In blended learning, students have some control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of the online portion of their education.3 Some schools offer students a blended program with a portion of their courses online and other courses taught in the classroom or through regular independent study.

    1. Students may take online courses on a full-time basis or on a supplemental/part-time basis (where the student enrolled in a school takes one or more individual courses online from another provider), depending on the policy of the school or online provider.

    2. Online courses are offered by a variety of schools and providers. Refer to the California Directory of Online Schools and Programs.

    3. Online courses may be offered at any grade level. Grade levels are determined by the selected online provider.

    4. Online courses cover many subject areas including core classes, electives, credit recovery, Advanced Placement, and community college concurrent enrollment.

    5. Online courses vary as to the level of teacher-to-student interaction and the level of student-to-student interaction.

    6. Online courses include those with a regular starting time, usually with a cohort of students. (Student interaction is with the teacher and with other students.)

    7. Some online providers allow students to begin and end a course at any point in time during the year (open entry/open exit).

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  2. How do students interact with teachers and with other students in online education?

    1. With online courses, student-to-teacher communication and student-to-student communication will often be by means other than face-to-face meetings.
    1. In synchronous courses, teachers and students are online at the same appointed time, but “see” each other or each other’s work electronically via Webcams, chat rooms, or virtual classrooms.

    2. In asynchronous courses, teachers and students may post or e-mail assignments and completed work electronically but are not necessarily online at the same time. Students may interact with teachers and other students in a variety of ways including discussion boards, instant messaging, e-mail, and blogs.
    1. Blended courses, which combine online and site-based learning, provide opportunities for face-to-face interactions as well as virtual communication.

    2. Interaction is considered by many online practitioners to be the heart of online education. Teachers have reported that their interactions with students, parents/guardians, and colleagues were more often focused on teaching and learning in online courses than in the traditional setting. Interaction is named as the primary difference between online and face-to-face instruction and is one of the most important aspects of the online setting. In virtual schools, participants seek both deeper and stronger relationships, and they also value frequent and timely responses to questions.4 For more information on teacher-student learning interactions, refer to FAQ 10a.D.

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  1. What are some advantages of online education?

    Online education can:

    • Expand the range of courses available to students—especially in small, rural, or inner-city schools—beyond what a single school can offer.

    • Provide highly-qualified teachers in subjects where qualified teachers are lacking.

    • Increase flexibility to address student schedule conflicts.

    • Provide credit recovery opportunities.

    • Expand opportunities for students who are homebound due to illness, have obligations which make regular classroom attendance difficult (such as child actors and competitive athletes), need to work, or are teen parents.

    • Provide options for students who do not feel safe at school and would consider dropping out.

    • Facilitate mastery of essential twenty-first century skills including self-directed learning, time management, and personal responsibility.

    • Teach technology skills by embedding technology literacy in academic content.

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Ways That Online Education is Offered in California
  1. Where should a school or district start when deciding to provide online courses to its students?

The International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has developed How to Start an Online Learning Program (Outside Source) to help educators and policy makers who are new to online education. This Web site provides resources in key topics that must be addressed when starting an online program such as funding, teaching, and quality.

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  1. If a district wants to provide online courses to its students, what options are available?

Some local educational agencies (LEAs) offer online courses in existing schools, whereas others have established new online schools, which may be either charter or non-charter schools. Approaches to offering online courses can include:

  1. District teachers create course content and teach the online courses. In some LEAs, current subject expert teachers modify their classroom courses for online delivery and teach them online as well.
  1. Some examples of districts where district staff developed online courses include Poway Unified School District (USD) and Pacific Coast High School in the Orange County Department of Education, as well as the 11 districts that participated in California’s Online Classroom Pilot Program: Capistrano USD, Clovis USD, East Side Union High School District (HSD), Folsom-Cordova USD, Grossmont Union HSD, Los Angeles USD, Orange USD, San Jose USD, Santa Ana USD, Victor Valley Union HSD, and William S. Hart Union HSD. Many of these districts have continued to offer online education after the pilot program ended.

  2. Districts that have developed their own online courses may join consortia such as the national Virtual High School (VHS) (Outside Source). VHS member schools provide a teacher who creates and teaches an online course and, in exchange, can place students in any of the VHS courses. Although no California public schools are currently participating in this program, three schools (located in Fremont, Vallejo, and Pittsburgh) have participated in the past.
  1. District teachers use course content and other online resources that were developed by an outside provider. In some LEAs, current subject expert teachers teach online courses using curriculum developed by an outside provider. Some districts contract with vendors while others use curriculum and other resources provided for free or at low cost to California public schools. For example:

    1. UC College Prep (UCCP) (Outside Source) allows county offices of education, school districts, and individual schools to use online courses developed by UCCP.

    2. Schools using the UCCP courses are listed as Partners (Outside Source).

    3. The Course Catalog (Outside Source) on the UCCP site lists the courses provided free to public and non-profit California schools.

    4. UCCP has formed a partnership with the K–12 High Speed Network (K12HSN) to provide free video lessons for a variety of courses. Visit K12HSN's Calaxy (Outside Source).

    5. CaliQity (Outside Source) is a resource provided by California’s K12HSN. It gives schools access to The FREE e-learning Platform (PDF; Outside Source), a free learning management system, (PDF; Outside Source) and to the Curriculum Course Offering list. (PDF; Outside Source).

    6. O●Zone: Online Opportunities & Options (Outside Source) is a comprehensive suite of online tools, resources, and licensed and locally developed content for grades six through twelve. It is hosted and developed through a collaborative partnership of the County Offices of Education of Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz, but is available to districts throughout the state.

    7. The National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) provides the HippoCampus (Outside Source) library which includes free high school and Advanced Placement courses.

  2. Districts contract with course content providers who also provide California credentialed teachers to teach the online courses. Some LEAs contract with an online course provider for both online curriculum and teachers employed by the provider. The CDE does not endorse specific online course providers. The Online Courses & Policy (Outside Source) on the University of California (UC) Web page lists online providers that have been approved by the UC system. The UC continues to certify new providers and may also decertify providers, so check the UC Web page often.

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  1. If a school does not offer online courses, how can students access online courses offered by another institution?

    1. A number of districts are now offering online courses in one or more of their schools. Districts should have a process in place that enables district students enrolled in schools that do not offer online courses to access them at schools that do.

    2. Students may take classes through another institution or provider and have the credits transferred to the school in which they are enrolled. Usually these classes will be provided on a fee basis. Before enrolling in an outside course, students should seek assurance from their current school that the courses and grades will be accepted for credit toward high school graduation at their current school.

    3. Sources for information about individual online courses include:

      1. The California Directory of Online Schools and Programs.

      2. The Online Courses & Policy (Outside Source) on the UC Web page lists online providers that have been approved by the UC system. Those listed offer individual courses to students enrolled in other schools. The UC continues to certify new providers, and may also decertify providers, so check the UC Web page often.

      3. The California Virtual Campus (Outside Source) provides a directory of courses offered by colleges and universities across California.

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  2. What is involved in transferring to another school to access online courses?

    1. The ability to transfer to another school within the student’s school district would be governed by the district’s intra-district transfer policies.

    2. Students wishing to attend a non-charter public school outside their district would need to transfer to a school in their county of residence or an immediately adjacent county, as required by California Education Code (EC) Section 51747.3(b). Transferring to a non-charter school would probably require an inter-district transfer wherein both the student’s current district and the receiving district agree to the transfer. Refer to the Inter-district Transfer/Reciprocal Agreement on the CDE’s District Transfers Web page.

    3. Many of California’s online schools are charter schools and a student could transfer to a charter school without the need for an inter-district transfer. Students may attend charter schools in their county of residence or in adjacent counties. To find independent study charter schools, refer to the CDE’s Charter Schools in California Counties Web page. Select a county. Independent study charter schools are in pink boxes.

    4. Students may elect to pay tuition and enroll in a private online school to access online K–12 courses. If a student enrolls in an out-of-state school on a full-time basis, he or she should file a Private School Affidavit.

    5. For more information about online options in California, refer to the California Directory of Online Schools and Programs.

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Quality Indicators for Online Education
  1. Are there quality indicators for online education?

Yes. A number of organizations have developed quality indicators for online education. The characteristics summarized in questions 10a-d are adapted from the following sources:

Note also that the CLRN California Learning Resource Network (Outside Source) has collaborated with California and national stakeholder groups to create criteria for reviewing online courses to ensure quality. During summer 2011, CLRN will begin reviewing high school math and English-language arts online courses both for their alignment to the Common Core State Standards and to CLRN's nationally adopted criteria for online courses.

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10a. What are the characteristics of high quality online courses?

High quality online courses:

  1. Align to state content standards, or nationally/internationally accepted content standards where appropriate, and use course curricula designed and/or reviewed by content experts.

  2. Utilize instructional materials which:

    1. Have sufficient rigor, breadth, and depth to allow mastery of state and local content standards.

    2. Consist of visually rich and intellectually stimulating course content, which may include animations, simulations, interactivity, and videos to enhance students’ learning experiences.

    3. Are of an appropriate reading level, balanced and bias-free, and properly cited.

    4. Address a variety of learning styles and preferences.

  3. Require academically challenging projects, lessons, and activities that:

    1. Involve substantial reading and writing.

    2. Show serious attention to analytical thinking as well as factual content.

    3. Demand critical thinking, problem solving, and study skills.

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  1. Promote substantial teacher-student learning interactions and, as appropriate to the program design, student-student interactions (e.g., bulletin board discussions, white board technology, or other online classroom tools).

    1. Meaningful online interactions between the teacher and students, among students, and between students and course materials should be used to motivate students and foster intellectual commitment and personal development.

    2. Students should know what to expect from their teachers, such as how long it will take to receive feedback on an e-mail message or assessment, and what kinds of interaction are expected of them.
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  1. Provide:

    1. Clearly-stated course prerequisites.

    2. An orientation and assistance to help students start their course on schedule. The overall design and expectations of the course should be clearly stated to the student at the beginning of the course. Students should be informed of how to get started, how to access course components and resources, and what prerequisite technical skills they should have, as well as the “netiquette” (Internet etiquette) expected for online discussions, e-mail interactions, and other communications.

    3. Specified work requirements for students (e.g., projects, papers).

    4. Specified time periods within which lessons and examinations will be graded and the results communicated to the student and student support staff (e.g., mentors/supervisors, parents/guardians).

    5. Clear learning objectives with measurable outcomes for units, chapters, and lessons, allowing students to understand the relationship between the materials and the learning activities.

    6. A comprehensive course syllabus and course calendar.

    7. Clearly identified course policies and services for students with disabilities and an outline of the technical support available.

    8. Course instructions, including information on how the institution’s academic and student services can help students reach educational goals, and answers to any basic questions about research, writing, or technology use. Equal access to both face-to-face and online course components to all students, including equivalent alternatives to visual or auditory content in the course material for students with hearing or visual disabilities, computer screens with adequate readability, and course pages with self-describing and meaningful Web links.

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  1. Assess students:

    1. On intake or in an orientation session to determine student readiness to pursue coursework (based on technological proficiency, level of motivation, etc.).

    2. Through sequenced assessments which are varied and appropriate to the content.

    3. By providing students opportunities to engage in “self-checks” or practice assessments, with timely feedback from the teacher, so that students can be continuously aware of their progress and mastery of the content.

    4. By using grading policies and practices that are clear and easy to understand.

    5. By using key assessments, including midterms and finals, which are proctored by qualified professionals.

    6. Through standardized course grades that are assigned by highly qualified teachers who are credentialed in the subject area of study.

  2. Ensure that supplementary help is provided to students by teachers or other student support staff based on individual student needs.

  3. Ensure regular evaluation of the course effectiveness, with findings used as the basis for improvement.

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10b. What are the characteristics of high quality online teachers?

The teacher in an online course is considered just as important as the teacher in the physical classroom. An online teacher’s roles include guiding and individualizing learning, communicating with students, grading and promoting students, and, in some cases, developing the online course content and structure.5

High quality online teachers:

  • Demonstrate subject matter competence in all core academic subjects they teach, as required by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 2001.

  • Maintain active, regular contact with students (i.e., at least weekly) to monitor student progress, provide timely and frequent feedback, and nurture incremental academic growth throughout the course.

  • Provide timely response to student inquiries.

  • Set and maintain clear and rigorous course participation expectations.

  • Use the data and findings from student assessments to modify instructional methods and content and guide student learning.

  • Participate in research-based pre-service training and ongoing professional development to support student success in the online environment.

  • Demonstrate proficiency in both:

    • Pedagogy—how to teach courses in an online environment to encourage active learning, interaction, participation, and collaboration; and

    • Technology—how to use the tools required for online courses.

The International Society for Technology in Education has developed national educational technology standards for online teachers, listed on the NETS for Teachers 2008 (Outside Source) Web page, which include:

  • Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity.

  • Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessment.

  • Model Digital-Age Work and Learning.

  • Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility.

  • Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership.

Note that to meet UC “a-g” course requirements, online laboratory science courses must also provide qualified teachers to conduct on-site wet labs. Refer to the UC Online Courses & Policy (Outside Source) Web page.

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10c. What are some student-specific requirements for success in online education?

  1. To be successful, online students need:

    1. Self-motivation and persistence because online students must work more independently than classroom-based students.

    2. Organizational and time-management skills to complete assignments on time, especially for asynchronous courses in which much of the work can be done at any time.

  2. The International Society for Technology in Education has developed NETS for Students 2007 (Outside Source), national educational technology standards for online students, which cover:

    1. Creativity and Innovation

    2. Communication and Collaboration

    3. Research and Information Fluency

    4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making

    5. Digital Citizenship

    6. Technology Operations and Concepts

  3. As prerequisites to taking an online course, students need:

    1. Basic computer skills such as Web browsing, e-mailing, and the ability to use Microsoft Office applications.

    2. Familiarity with how to contact the teacher.

    3. Web etiquette or “netiquette,” such as how to participate in chat rooms, standards for plagiarism, and appropriateness of posted content.

  4. Students need an orientation to online education and the expectations, policies, and requirements for the particular course or courses they will be taking.

  5. Students need a reasonably quiet place for their computer, desk, and materials in order to work on their course assignments.

  6. Students should have ready access to technical assistance should any systems problems arise.

  7. Students need the technology required for online education. Refer to FAQ 24, which includes information about the following topics:

    1. Computers
    2. Basic productivity software
    3. Internet access

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10d. Have standards been developed for online administrators?

The International Society for Technology in Education has developed NETS for Administrators 2009 (Outside Source), national educational technology standards for online administrators, which cover the following areas:

  • Visionary Leadership
  • Digital Age Learning Culture
  • Excellence in Professional Practice
  • Systemic Improvement
  • Digital Citizenship

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  1. What policies does the University of California (UC) have regarding acceptance of online courses for UC/California State University (CSU) admissions?

    1. Courses

      1. “a-g” refers to the subject requirements (history/social science, English, mathematics, etc.) for high school courses students must take to meet UC/CSU admissions requirements. Visit the UC’s “a-g” Subject Area Requirements (Outside Source).

      2. For information about online courses that satisfy the UC/CSU entrance requirements, visit the UC’s Online Courses & Policy (Outside Source).

      3. Some schools may have received UC “a-g” approval for some, but not all, of their courses.

      4. For purposes of meeting UC/CSU entrance requirements, UC honors online courses offered by other, non UC-approved providers if the student’s high school principal certifies “that the course is comparable to other college preparatory courses offered at the high school.” For details visit the Principal Certification Policy (DOC; Outside Source) included in the June 2010 letter from the UC.

      5. The UC will not accept any online courses in the areas of visual and performing arts (VPA) or laboratory science, with the exception of laboratory science courses that require an on-site wet lab component.

    2. Program Status and Approved Providers

      1. Some schools offer online courses exclusively—these schools need to meet the requirements outlined in the UC online policy and receive “program status” in order to submit online courses for “a-g” approval.

      2. A list of approved online providers is available on UC’s Online Courses & Policy (Outside Source).

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  2. Which online high school programs are accredited by the state of California?

The CDE does not accredit schools.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredits public and private schools to certify that those schools have adequately prepared students to attend college. Accredited schools may be found in the WASC Accrediting Commission for Schools (Outside Source) Search Directory .

California high schools wanting to submit “a-g” course lists for UC approval must be WASC-accredited. Schools in other regions are accredited by WASC Regional Affiliates (Outside Source). A similar process for certifying online courses for student athletes exists through the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) (Outside Source). The NCAA reviews high school programs to ensure integrity in academics, finances, diversity and inclusion, and the student-athlete experience. Only schools that meet NCAA standards are certified to allow their students to play competitively in Division I, II, or III (divisions are based on school enrollment size). To find out if a school offers NCAA-approved courses, visit the NCAA Eligibility Center High School Portal (Outside Source).

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  1. What does the research say about student achievement in an online environment as compared with a traditional classroom environment?

The effectiveness of K–12 online education compared to classroom-based education has not yet been studied extensively. A 2009 U.S. Department of Education (ED) analysis of the research comparing online and face-to-face instruction found that the number of valid studies of elementary and secondary education was too small to provide definitive results. Most of the studies which ED analyzed focused on higher education and here they found that, “on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” The analysis also found that students in courses which blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction appeared to do best of all.6

An iNACOL 2009 summary of research on the effectiveness of K–12 online education noted that:

The small body of research focused on the effectiveness of K–12 virtual schooling programs supports findings of similar studies on online courses offered in higher education. The college-level studies find “no significant difference” in student performance in online courses versus traditional face-to-face courses, and in particular programs that students learning online are performing “equally well or better.”

The study concludes, “The preliminary research shows promise for online learning as an effective alternative for improving student performance across diverse groups of students.”7

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ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS SPECIFICALLY FOR PARENTS/GUARDIANS

My Student and Online Education
  1. How can I tell if my student would be successful in an online environment?

Refer to FAQ 10c to assist you in determining if your child would be a good candidate for online education.

There are many types of online programs and it is important to select a program that is of high quality and best meets your child’s needs. The iNACOL publication, Promising Practices in Online Learning: A Parent’s Guide to Choosing the Right Online Program (PDF; Outside Source) (February 2010), is designed to assist parents/guardians in making a selection among the options which may be available to you.

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  1. How can I find online options?

The CDE has compiled a list of K–12 schools that offer 30 percent or more of their instruction via online education in the California Directory of Online Schools and Programs (Will hyperlink). You can use this directory to identify the providers of online courses in your county or neighboring counties.

The California Virtual Campus (CVC) (Outside Source) includes a directory of online courses for California.The CVC online course catalog allows you to find online classes offered by colleges and universities across California. Although enrollment in college classes by high school students will most likely require parental and counselor permission, some of the classes listed at CVC are suitable for high school students.

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  1. Should I check with my local school district?

Yes. The first step is to check with your local school district about online options which may be available at district schools. If your district does not offer online options which meet your student’s needs, you may also be interested in the following:

  • FAQ 8 : If a school does not offer online courses, how can students access online courses offered by another institution?

  • FAQ 9: What is involved in transferring to another school to access online courses?

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  1. What questions should I ask?

    Sorting Through Online Learning Options: A Guide for Parents (PDF; Outside Source), iNACOL publication, includes eleven questions to research and/or ask that will provide important information when considering an online school or program.

In addition to the questions listed in the above documents, parents/guardians may also need to know the following:

  • What is the required equipment (computer, Internet connection, etc.) and who provides it?

  • Does the school or program adhere to the elements of quality that would meet the needs of your student (refer to FAQ 10 and FAQs 10a-10d)?

  • If you are looking for a school that offers high school courses, be sure to check if the school providing the courses is accredited by WASC: Accrediting Commission for Schools (Outside Source) or a WASC Regional Affiliations (Outside Source).

  • If you are looking for a school that offers high school courses, ask if the courses have been approved by the UC to meet the UC/CSU “a-g” admissions requirements. (Refer to FAQ 11 on this page for information about UC “a-g” policies.). You can also search for a California school’s certified “a-g” course list at the University of California's (UC) a-g Course Lists (Outside Source).

  • If your student is attending an online school on an athletic scholarship, check to be sure the school offers NCAA-approved courses by visiting the NCAA Eligibility Center: High School Portal (Outside Source).

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The Role of Parents/Guardians
  1. What are the expectations for parents/guardians when their children take online courses?

In a quality online program, parents/guardians play an integral part in their student’s educational life and work as a team with faculty, administrators, guidance counselors, and support staff to ensure a quality educational experience for the student. The parent/guardian is commonly referred to as a “learning coach” in online education.

The National Standards for Quality Online Programs, (PDF; Outside Source), (October 2009), International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), reports on page 16 that in quality online programs, parents/guardians:

  • Are provided information about the program, successful online student practices, and supportive learning environments.

  • Receive timely responses from faculty and staff.

  • Receive critical information about student progress and are encouraged to communicate with faculty and administrators to best support the online learning student.

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19. Does parent/guardian participation vary by grade level?

Yes. Important differences exist in the way online learning is used at different grade levels. One major difference is in how much time a student typically spends online. In grades nine through twelve, students in an online school may spend between one-half and three-quarters of their course time online, while in the lowest grade levels students often spend 15 percent or less of their time online. The rest of the work is done offline—the students read books, solve math problems on paper, draw, and conduct science experiments. As children get older and their reading skills improve, instruction and activities will involve increased computer use, according to educational standards. However, offline work will always be essential. At the lowest grade levels, many programs rely heavily on parents/guardians or other learning coaches to help the online student.8

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20. What is the role of the parent/guardian as a learning coach?

During the early grades the parent/guardian, as learning coach, devotes considerable time—four to five hours each day is a common expectation—and plays a key role in helping the student develop study skills, helping to facilitate the student’s progress, and working to modify the pace and schedule as needed. Even as students learn to do more activities and lessons independently, parent/guardian participation and supervision remain vital. As students become more independent in the middle school and high school years, the learning coach typically spends less time on daily oversight and guidance to the student, but continues to play a critically important role in supporting the student, keeping in touch with the student’s teachers, monitoring student progress, and making sure the student’s needs are met as issues arise. At the high school level, the parent/guardian is less involved, as responsibility shifts more to students themselves.

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21. What if both parents/guardians work?

When considering online education, parents/guardians must determine whether they can provide the support and time that students who take most of their courses online will need. Some online educators report that families in which both parents/guardians are working full time may have difficulty providing necessary support to students. It may, however, depend on a number of factors, including the age and maturity of the student and what kinds of arrangements are available. For instance, some schools offer blended programs in which students can access online courses at the school site in addition to receiving face-to-face instruction from a classroom teacher. In such cases, the student is under the supervision of a classroom teacher at all times. Some online schools provide options for their students to work part time on site with school mentors. In some families where both parents/guardians work, the parents/guardians have put together co-ops that allow their children to study with other families during the time they are out of the house. Some families seek help from grandparents or hire tutors if both parents/guardians work. In other families, students do most of their schoolwork in the evenings when their parents/guardians are available.

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  1. How often will I have to take my child to school?

The frequency of scheduled meetings at a school site will depend on the program selected. Online programs vary regarding how often—or whether—students will need to be on site. Some online schools are completely virtual and all communication is virtual as well; whereas, some schools blend classroom sessions with online learning, and as a result, may require frequent or even daily attendance on site.

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  1. What tools are available for parents/guardians to ensure that their students are completing assignments and mastery assessments?

The tools for monitoring student progress vary from school to school. For example:

  • Many schools establish Web sites with security login features for parents/guardians and students. These sites are used for posting student grades, pacing charts, and attendance records in real time.

  • Most schools provide guidelines and procedures that encourage parents/guardians to call, e-mail, or send instant messages to teachers, academic coaches, and education advocates to discuss their student's progress.

  • In some schools academic coaches also monitor student progress and schedule a conference between parents/guardians, students, teachers, and school administrators, if an issue is identified.

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ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS SPECIFICALLY FOR EDUCATORS

Technology Requirements for Online Education
  1. What hardware, software, Internet components, technical support, and training are necessary to provide quality online education?

The report, written by Matthew Wicks, A National Primer on K–12 Online Learning, Version 2, October 2010 (PDF; Outside Source), International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), includes a list beginning on page 35, of the necessary components for delivering a quality online program. The following information is adapted from that report.

  1. Software: The basic software necessary for delivering and receiving online courses is fairly simple. Software includes:

    1. The learning management system (LMS) (also called course management system [CMS]): The LMS is the technology platform through which online courses are offered. An LMS includes software tools for creating and editing course content, communicating, delivering instruction online, maintaining grade books, and assessing student progress, along with other features designed to enhance access and ease of use. Examples include ATutor, Blackboard, CaliQity, Desire2Learn, Elluminate, Haiku, and Moodle.

    2. Student information system (SIS): This capability is required of all full-time and many supplemental online programs to keep track of key student demographic, contact, and assessment data for reporting as well as for data-driven decision-making.

    3. Audio and video plug-ins: Teachers and students will usually need a media player for video and audio. Programs may also integrate third-party software for real-time Web conferencing capability.

    4. Basic productivity software: Students and teachers need to have basic software for Web browsing (e.g., Internet Explorer), word processing (e.g., Microsoft Word), reading text documents (e.g., Adobe Acrobat reader). Some of these are free, such as the browser and Adobe Acrobat reader, while others must be purchased either by the course provider, the school, or the student’s family.

  2. Hardware: The hardware needs of an online program depend on the program, but generally include:

    1. Servers and bandwidth: An online program needs a server that hosts the courses and the bandwidth to deliver them. Most vendors that provide learning management systems also have an option to provide hosting. Synchronous programs further require other servers to operate the interactive component of the program, with additional bandwidth needs. Broadband Internet access requires sufficient bandwidth to host courses and online services and be able to sustain peak periods of teacher and student usage without a reduction in performance. Synchronous programs have additional bandwidth needs.

    2. Computers: The need for computers for all teachers and students is a significant issue for online programs, partly because of the cost, and partly because of the potential to exacerbate issues of inequality. Supplemental programs often expect the student’s school to provide access to a computer lab so the student can access courses from the school. Programs that serve full-time students sometimes provide computers on loan to their students as part of their service.

  3. Internet access: While many programs attempt to make their courses accessible for dial-up access, broadband Internet access provides a far better learning experience. Students in supplemental programs primarily access their online courses through school computer labs with broadband access, and sometimes connect from home or a community library. For students in full-time online schools, access is always from home or a community location. Many online schools provide a subsidy to defray the cost of home Internet access.

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  1. What are the UC requirements for certified providers of online high school courses related to a learning management system (LMS) (also called course management system [CMS])?

On page 6 of the June 2008 letter, UC a-g Online Policy (DOC; Outside Source), a list of criteria for a LMS (or CMS) used by online providers is provided as follows:

  • Assures reliable course access, delivery, records management, teaching and learning tools, and security for both data and participants.

  • Ensures the authenticity of student work and the validity of assessments and grades.

  • Provides access to authorized users only.

  • As appropriate, supports the creation and maintenance of an online learning community for each course.

  • Delineates technical specifications and provides technical support, resolving problems or reporting on status within 24 hours.

  • Supports the delivery, restricted access, and grading of multiple assessment formats (e.g., short answers, essays, projects, portfolios, multiple choice, true-false questions, free response) and allows teachers to manage the assessments.

  • Provides an online grade book for teachers and students.

  • Supports synchronous and/or asynchronous communication for study sessions (and possibly office hours) via multiple methods, which may include e-mail, telephone, fax, bulletin boards, whiteboards, threaded discussions, computer conferences, and virtual classrooms.

  • Provides on-site support staff (i.e., mentors/supervisors, parents/guardians) with access to student grade reports on a regular (i.e., weekly) basis or 24-hour online access.

  • Captures and archives all electronic communication between teachers and students, between teachers and support staff, and between teachers and parents/guardians.

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  1. What tools are available for parents/guardians, students, teachers, and administrators to ensure that students are completing assignments and mastery assessments?

The tools for monitoring student progress vary from school to school.

  • Many schools establish Web sites with security login features for parents/guardians and students. These sites are used for posting student grades, pacing charts, and attendance records in real time.

  • Most schools provide guidelines and procedures that encourage parents/guardians to call, e-mail, or send instant messages to teachers, academic coaches, and education advocates to discuss their student's progress.

  • In some schools, academic coaches also monitor student progress and schedule a conference between parents/guardians, students, teachers, and school administrators, if an issue is identified.

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  1. What support is available for districts and schools as they begin providing online courses?

    1. Refer to FAQ 6 for information about where a school or district should start when deciding to provide online courses to its students.

    2. Programs and resources for online education:

      1. K–12 High Speed Network (K12HSN) (Outside Source) is a state program funded by the CDE. K12HSN provides the California K–12 community with:

        1. Network Connectivity Internet Services
        2. Teaching and Learning Application Coordination
        3. Videoconferencing Coordination and Support

        Resources on K12HSN include:

        1. Brokers of Expertise (Outside Source): An interactive online environment that offers teaching resources and opportunities to engage with an online community of teaching professionals.

        2. CaliQity (Outside Source): A learning management system and a repository of free and fee-based courses and learning objects.

        3. Calaxy (Outside Source): A suite of free tools that include:

          1. Moodle, an open-source course management system.

          2. Other tools including blogs, wikis, videos, photos, and Podcasts.

        4. Verizon Thinkfinity (Outside Source): A Web site that provides thousands of free educational resources.

      2. Other Resources to Support Online Education:

        1. CLRN: California Learning Resource Network (Outside Source) provides a guide to standards-aligned electronic learning resources, free web links, digital textbooks, online courses, and data assessment programs.

        2. The CDE-sponsored CTAP: California Technology Assistance Project (Outside Source) provides technical assistance to schools and districts in integrating technology into teaching and learning.

        3. JES & Co. (Outside Source), a non-profit 501(c)(3), is connecting the dots between learning systems in the United States and throughout the world using semantic Web technologies. JES & Co. provides the following free resources:

          1. The Gateway to 21st Century Skills (Outside Source) provides educators with quick and easy access to thousands of educational resources found on various federal, state, university, non-profit, and commercial Internet sites.

          2. The Achievement Standards Network (ASN) (Outside Source), with five distinct components:

            1. A list of academic standards by state, each with its own unique, Web-addressable Uniform Resource Identifier (URI).

            2. A data input tool, enabling direct input of standards documents into the list.

            3. Viewers and Web services to access the standards.

            4. A resolution service that converts each URI into machine readable text.

            5. A network of organizations that share, use, and develop tools for improving education.

        4. The Khan Academy (Outside Source) offers a wide variety of free resources to support the teaching of mathematics, physics, finance, and history including:

        5. TechSETS (Outside Source) provides technical professionals in California schools with access to training, support, and other resources.

        6. The Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) (Outside Source) provides resources for K–12 administrators for informed and effective leadership in the use of technology to improve education.

        7. UC College Prep (Outside Source) is a collection of online courses and digital lessons approved by the State of California and the College Board.

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School District Policies Needed to Implement a Successful Online Education Program
  1. Are there any national or international policy guidelines for online education?

iNACOL has developed How to Start an Online Learning Program (Outside Source) to help educators and policy makers by providing resources on key topics that must be addressed when starting an online program. Topics include funding, teaching, and quality. The section on policies addresses:

  • Governance
  • Access and Equity
  • Teacher-Related Policies
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Student-Related Policies

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  1. Which California Education Code policies guide online education?

EC Section 46300.8(k), which is no longer in effect, required districts that chose to participate in the now expired Online Classroom Pilot Program to develop policies addressing the following factors:

  • Test integrity.

  • Evaluation of the online courses including a comparison with traditional
    in-classroom courses.

  • A procedure for attaining informed consent from both the parent/guardian and student regarding course enrollment.

  • The teacher selection process.

  • Criteria regarding student priority for online courses.

  • Equity and access in terms of hardware or computer laboratories.

  • Teacher training for online teaching.

  • Teacher evaluation procedures.

  • Criteria for asynchronous learning including the type and frequency of the contact between student and teacher.

  • Student computer skills necessary to take an online course.

  • Provision of onsite support for online students.

EC Section 51865 defines distance learning and lists the educational goals that California should achieve through the use of distance learning (now more commonly referred to as online education):

  • Equity in education
  • Quality in education
  • Diversity among educational institutions
  • Efficiency and accountability

The statute further states that, to the extent funding is available, online education should meet the following high priority educational needs:

  • Enhancement of workforce skills.

  • Expansion of adult education classes in English as a Second Language.

  • Enhancement of curriculum to meet the needs of high-risk pupils.

  • Expansion of course offerings in subjects that include, but are not limited to, foreign languages, science, and mathematics, to rural and inner-city secondary schools that are unable to provide the college preparatory and enrichment courses that their pupils require and that other secondary schools provide.

  • Expansion of course offerings at community colleges.

  • Establishment of staff development courses for teachers.

  • Enhancement of curriculum through partnerships with universities and businesses.

EC Section 51745 governs independent study. Since most online education is offered through independent study, average daily attendance (ADA) for online courses is based on the work performed by the student rather than the amount of time the student is present in a class. Students work according to a written agreement under the general supervision of credentialed teachers, and attendance is based on the teacher’s determination of the time value of the independent study student’s work product (EC Section 51747.5).

For more information on how independent study rules and regulations affect online education, refer to the following:

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  1. What attendance policies affect online education?

The Attendance Accounting for Online Classes letter, from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, dated April 24, 2001, clarifies that online courses may be presented either in the classroom setting or through independent study and that the appropriate method of attendance accounting for such classes depends on the instructional setting. Attendance takes on particular significance in California because a large portion of public school funding is based on ADA.

Classroom setting: Some schools provide online instruction in a classroom setting. The student is engaged in educational activities “under the immediate supervision and control” of a certificated teacher, and his or her attendance will be based on regular classroom attendance rules (based on “seat time”), as provided by EC Section 46300(a).

Charter schools can only claim classroom-based attendance if certain criteria are met, one of which is to offer at least 80 percent of the required instructional minutes at the school site. If that percentage or any other criteria is not met, then independent study is the appropriate method to earn attendance.

Independent study: Since most online education in California is currently provided through independent study (refer to independent study policies below), most attendance for online education follows independent study rules and is based on completed student work products, rather than time in the classroom or time-on-task. Specifically, EC Section 51747.5(b) requires that the independent study supervising teacher determines the “time value” of assigned work completed by the student as the basis of attendance and state funding.

Chapter 8 of the Independent Study Operations Manual (2000 Edition) (PDF; 521 KB) provides general information on independent study attendance accounting.

  • For charter schools, the December 2004 letter regarding Nonclassroom-Based Independent Study Average Daily Attendance (ADA) clarifies that attendance accounting for online courses in charter schools must be based on both the daily engagement attendance model and on independent study time-value determination. Note that the funding for nonclassroom-based charter schools, including online charter schools, is also contingent on the Senate Bill 740 funding determination process. Refer to the CDE Nonclassroom-Based Instruction and Senate Bill 740 Web page.

  • Another important requirement of independent study law is that funding is not provided for independent study ADA that exceeds the required pupil-to-teacher ratio. Specifically, the pupil-to-teacher ratio for independent study9 cannot be greater than the pupil-to-teacher ratio for all other education programs operated by the district. Charter schools have the option of not exceeding a fixed 25:1 pupil-to-teacher ratio or comparing its ratio to the largest unified school district in the county in which it operates.10

Blended models: Programs that combine online and face-to-face learning use either classroom-based or independent study attendance rules. Both classroom-based and independent study rules state that full apportionment may be claimed based on a minimum day of attendance (for high school, 240 instructional minutes).

  • If the student is scheduled for at least the minimum day in the classroom setting, classroom-based attendance rules are used.

  • If the student takes most of his or her online courses using independent study—are assigned at least a minimum day’s worth of instruction through independent study—then the independent study method of attendance accounting is used.

Note that EC sections 46110 and 46140 limit elementary and most secondary students to one day of apportionment credit in any calendar day. District procedures must prevent the claiming of any combination of classroom and independent study credits that would exceed one day of apportionment credit per day of instruction in the school's calendar.

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  1. Are all online teachers counted when calculating the teacher-to-student average daily attendance ratio?

EC Section 51745.6 states that the ratio of ADA for independent study, including most online education, is calculated based on the ratio of pupils 18 years of age or less to school district full-time equivalent certificated employees.

Therefore, the only teachers who can be counted are charter school or district full-time equivalent certificated teachers who are LEA employees. Teachers who are not employees of the school or district (e.g., teachers provided by an online vendor, teachers from another district or county office of education) are not counted. For more information about calculating the ADA ratio, visit Instructions for Ratio Calculations.

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  1. How do independent study policies relate to online education?

Since most online education in California is currently provided through independent study, most districts that offer full-time online programs will need to adopt policies required by independent study law.11 A good starting point for learning about independent study is the CDE’s Independent Study Web page.

Following are some specific questions related to independent study policies.

  1. How do schools keep online education records for attendance accounting (apportionment) and for audit purposes?

To determine the method for claiming attendance for online courses, refer to FAQ 30 for information regarding the attendance policies affect online education?

5 California Code of Regulations (CCR) Section 11703(4) requires that attendance records for independent study be kept separate from classroom attendance records. When student attendance is claimed based solely on classroom-based accounting rules or independent study accounting rules, only one set of attendance records must be kept. However, if the online courses through independent study and classroom-based courses must be combined to produce a minimum day, then two sets of attendance records must be kept.

  1. Are there any special considerations when offering online courses through independent study?

While the same requirements apply for online and non-online courses, offering online courses through independent study introduces some challenges specific to online courses including:

  1. Work samples: 5 CCR Section 11703(b)(3) requires representative samples of student work, with notations signed or initialed and dated by the student’s supervising teacher. In such cases, computer-generated work must be printed out so the teacher can sign or initial the notations.

  2. Required signatures on independent study agreements: EC Section 51747 requires that each independent study student have a written agreement signed and dated by not only the student, parent/guardian, and the supervising teacher, but by all parties who have direct responsibility for providing assistance to the student. The signatures must be obtained before beginning independent study. Especially when the student has more than one teacher, obtaining multiple dated signatures may present particular challenges when students, parents/guardians, and teachers are in different locations. The independent study rules and regulations do not specify an original signature, so faxed signatures should be acceptable. Some auditors prefer original signatures and we recommend that you check with your district auditor on this point. Some districts provide multiple copies of the agreement, each one signed by one of the teachers and stapled together.
  1. Are electronic signatures allowed for online attendance or independent study work samples and agreements?

Electronic signatures are not allowed on independent study records at this time. The August 3, 2009 letter, Notice of Electronic Attendance Accounting and Teacher Signature Alternatives, indicates the electronic signature approval process is only intended for signatures on actual attendance records.

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  1. How do schools determine high school credits for an online course?

Policies regarding credits for online high school courses should reflect state law requiring that courses offered through independent study shall not be provided as an alternative curriculum,12 and shall be at least equal in quality and quantity to classroom-based courses offered by an LEA.13 In general, online courses are expected to cover the same standards and follow the same curriculum as classroom-based versions of the same course. EC Section 51865(h) reads as follows:

The state should ensure that the same standards are applied to distance learning for course and program quality, course content, pupil achievement levels, and coherence of curriculum that are currently applied for those purposes to traditional classroom instruction at public educational institutions.

In general, LEA policy would reflect the expectation that a course offered both online and in the classroom mode would be worth the same number of credits. LEAs that only provide online education would determine the number of credits that each of its online courses would carry.

Policy should reflect that if a student enrolled in one high school takes an online course through another institution, the principal at the student’s school determines if the course is comparable to other college preparatory courses offered at the student’s school for purposes of meeting UC “a-g” requirements. In doing so, the principal also certifies the credits granted and grade earned. Refer to FAQ 11 for policies regarding the acceptance of online courses for University of California (UC)/California State University (CSU) admissions.

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ASSOCIATIONS THAT PROMOTE ONLINE EDUCATION
  1. Which associations promote online education?

There are a number of organizations which focus on online education including:

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Footnotes

1John Watson, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning (Outside Source) (Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning, 2007), 32., and John Watson and others, Keeping Pace with K–12 Online Learning (Outside Source) (Evergreen, CO: Evergreen Education Group, 2010), 8 and 13.
2 John Watson, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning (Outside Source). (Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning, 2007), 33.
3 Heather Staker, The Rise of K–12 Blended Learning: Profiles of emerging models (Outside Source) (Innosight Institute, 2011), 5.
4 Susan Patrick and Allison Powell, A Summary of Research on the Effectiveness of K–12 Online Learning (Outside Source) (Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning, 2009), 7.
5
John Watson and others, Keeping Pace with K–12 Online Learning (Outside Source) (Evergreen, CO: Evergreen Education Group, 2010), 8.
6 U.S. Department of Education, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, (Outside Source) (Washington, D.C.: Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2010), ix.
7 Susan Patrick and Allison Powell, A Summary of Research on the Effectiveness of K–12 Online Learning (Outside Source) (Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning, 2009), 7 and 9.
8 John Watson, The State of Online Learning in California: A Look at Current K-12 Policies and Practices (Outside Source) (Santa Cruz, CA: University of California College Prep, 2006), 14.
9 The pupil-to-teacher ratio is defined in terms of the ADA-to-teacher ratio. Refer to EC Section 51745.6.
10 Title 5, California Code of Regulations, Section 11704.
11If a district provides online courses only on a supplemental basis, with students continuing to take most of their courses in a classroom from a classroom teacher, then classroom-based attendance is used.
12 Since most online education in California is governed by independent study law, EC Section 51745(a)(3) applies to online education as well. It states that independent study shall be individualized to teach the knowledge and skills of the core curriculum, and shall not be provided as an alternative curriculum.
13 Since most online education in California is governed by independent study law, California Code of Regulations Title 5, Section 11701.5 applies to online education, including the requirement that “the independent study option is to be substantially equivalent in quality and in quantity to classroom instruction.”


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