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An Exploration of Accountability in K-12 Online Learning

Kathryn Kennedy (MVU, Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, USA)
Joe Freidhoff (Michigan Virtual University, USA)
Additional Authors
Leanna Archambault (Arizona State University, USA)
Session Information
October 16, 2015 - 9:30am
Leadership, Values and Society
Areas of Special Interest: 
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Asia 5
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 9
Virtual Session

This study explores accountability of K-12 online learning through interviews with stakeholders at local, state, and national levels, including course access states.

Extended Abstract

This study explores accountability of student learning in K-12 online learning through interviews with stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels, including those states, who are considered course access states, a growing trend across the country. In course access states, one issue that typically comes up is that the student funding can be uncoupled, but the accountability cannot. How does this impact states like Michigan who are course access states? How do each of the other states approach this? As online learning continues to grow in primary and secondary schools, educational policy tries to keep up with the ever-changing environment. In Michigan, Section 21f of the State School Aid Act states, "A pupil enrolled in a district in any of grades 6 to 12 is eligible to enroll in an online course as provided for in this section."

One of the key issues that arises out of 21f is the question of who is accountable for the student when he/she is taking an online course from a online provider. 21F explains to districts that they have to both allow students to take courses and also pay for them to enroll. There is also an 80-20 rule aligned with pay for performance, so the school has to pay 80% of the enrolling students' funding to the online provider at the time of enrollment. If the student passes the course, the remaining 20% gets paid to the online provider. If the student does not pass the course, the 20% stays with the school. Additionally, the school is held accountable for the student's performance in the online provider's course even if they have no control over the course.

When Michigan became a course access state, school administrators vocalized concern about being forced to allow another district to educate their students while at the same time they themselves were held accountable for the students' performance. Borne out of that concern was a legislative directive for the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI), the research arm of MVU, to "collaborate with key stakeholders to examine district level accountability and teacher effectiveness issues related to online learning under section 21f and make findings and recommendations publicly available." Toward accomplishing that goal, MVLRI wanted to find out more about stakeholders' knowledge and perspectives on this area. In this study, interviews were conducted with stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels to discuss: (1) What policies are in play when it comes to accountability both at the national and state levels? (2) What impact, if any, do the stakeholders think the ESEA renewal will have on accountability? (3) What is the underlying current in terms of school accountability staying with the local district? (4) What is the rationale for not allowing accountability to be uncoupled? (5) What kinds of stories are stakeholders hearing when it comes to accountability? (6) What's the difference between accountability of district level traditional school models vs. supplementary online models? (7) Depending on different stakeholders (policy makers, district-level administrators, school administrators, teachers, third party providers, school board associations, teacher association, teacher unions) involved, do they share the same story or are each of them telling different stories when it comes to describing how accountability plays out? (8) What's the stakeholder's reality - how does this play out? (9) What are the pain points - what's not working? (10) What would be a good solution for all involved? Is it different things for different stakeholders? (11) In the stakeholder's opinion, what are recommendations for: (a) district level accountability? And (b) online provider accountability? (12) Policy-wise: (a) What could be done at a national level? (b) What could be done at the state level? (c) What could be done at a local level?

Implications for this study include ones for policy at the national, state, and local levels, as well as for practice for fully supporting students who are enrolling in supplemental online learning programs.

Lead Presenter

Kathryn Kennedy is the Assistant Director of Michigan Virtual University's Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute. She earned her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in educational technology from the University of Florida. Her research and practice-based interests include educator preparation for technology integration and instructional design in traditional, blended, and online learning environments.