Tuesday, July 23, 2013
What census data should virtual education programs be collecting?
One of the interesting problems in K-12 virtual education programs is the lack of information about which students get served by these programs. A couple of years ago, recognizing that we didn’t have good data, David Glick distributed a survey through the iNACOL list asking programs to voluntarily report student demographic data. Initially there was a very poor response, with a number of programs saying they didn’t collect that data. We also asked state education departments (SEAs) and found they weren’t asking for the data either.
When I was working in the Massachusetts Dept. of Education back in the 70s, schools had to report student enrollment and demographic data as of October 1. Back then Massachusetts requested demographic data for different programs (e.g. Special Education, Title I, Vocational Education, etc.). All schools in Massachusetts were required to submit that data. Simultaneously the US Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) collected data on a subset of schools in Massachusetts and, I believe, across the country.
Later conservative administrations lessened the role of OCR apparently either ended or reduced OCR’s data collection. OCR is back in the game and is planning on collecting student demographic data again. What’s new is that OCR is planning on collecting demographic data on distance education programs. Virtual education including virtual schools are included in the OCR definition of distance education.
You can see more about this at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=ED-2013-ICCD-0079
I’m pleased to see OCR collecting student demographic data for distance education (aka virtual education). It will give us a better sense of which students are getting the benefit of online learning. This data collection will present a challenge for some programs that haven’t been collecting demographic data of enrolled students.
When the Mass DoE collected data, we analyzed the data looking at access issues among other things. I was involved with on district where their data indicated disproportionate representation in special education programs based on race. The district told me, they didn’t have a way to collect the data, and so administrators made up numbers where they thought they should have students. Then they didn’t look at what they submitted to see if it seemed logical.
Virtual education programs and schools need to create procedures for collecting student demographic data. They should then look at it critically to see what it is saying about their program and who they serve. They should then ask themselves if they like the picture that the data represents.