State agencies and NGOs have been online learning pioneers for well over a decade, with some such as Virtual High School, Michigan Virtual University and Florida Virtual School dating back to the late 1990s. In some states and regions, including Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Florida, New England, and others, public agencies and NGOs have been the main online learning provider to schools and students. They have improved learning opportunities for students while supporting the pressing needs of local school districts and other education stakeholders.
State virtual schools alone served 741,516 supplemental online course enrollments in 26 states in school year 2013-14. Although private for-profit companies are and will remain a significant provider segment, state agencies and NGOs are an important sector as well. This is counter to the often-held view that government agencies primarily play a regulatory role.
Public agencies, NGOs and consortia partner with school districts in their states and across the US to provide students access to courses often unavailable in the traditional setting. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights report (2014) noted limited student access to high-level math and science courses and other core courses, and a gap in opportunities for minorities in Advanced Placement (AP) course enrollment and testing. Virtual schools are leaders in addressing access and equity issues with online offerings that include specialized online curriculum to address changes in state graduation requirements (e.g., increased math or online experience requirements), access to Advanced Placement courses, summer school and other “hard to find” courses that local school districts are not always able to offer, as well as credit-recovery courses for at-risk students. These online courses use state-certified, highly qualified teachers. In addition, leading public agency programs have expanded beyond online courses to provide blended learning services to districts, professional development for online and classroom teachers, technology infrastructure and training, online college and career readiness options for students, and an array of other services.
Some state virtual schools go well beyond their main role as course and service providers, and also provide advice and counsel to policymakers in their states. Many provide an impartial resource for state legislators, government agencies and foundations grappling with the complexities of digital learning.
The Virtual School Leadership Alliance is an association of the chiefs of some of the most innovative virtual schools in the US, combining more than 130 years of online and blended learning operational experience. The member organizations serve over a quarter of a million online course enrollments annually, provide their districts and students with over 2,200 active, highly-qualified teachers trained in online instruction, and conduct research to validate the value of online learning. With this blog, the executive directors will be sharing insights and perspectives that will be useful to a wide range of practitioners who are working to better serve their students and teachers through online and blended learning.
 U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (College and Career Readiness) March 21, 2014