Texas public schools are using technology and digital learning strategies to broaden student access to advanced coursework and deliver innovative curriculum and instruction to students. Effective use of technology through blended learning has the potential to fundamentally transform the way education is delivered in Texas.

Technology and the Quest for Personalized Education

Comparing Blended Learning and Full-Time Virtual Education

The effective use of technology in Texas public schools has the potential to transform teaching and learning. This brief outlines the differences between full-time virtual schools and blended learning programs and offers evidence as to why blended learning presents the more advantageous strategy with the potential to benefit a greater number of students.

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Blended Learning

Blended learning refers to the blend of online learning and brick-and-mortar schooling. Blended learning takes place when students learn at least in part online, with some element of student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of their learning, while also enjoying the benefits that come with education at a physical school.

Blended learning provides an opportunity to use technology to improve student performance and encourage school redesign, while maintaining accountability and efficiency in the use of public funds.

Raise Your Hand Texas believes in the potential of blended learning, and launched a $2.5 million Raising Blended Learners demonstration program in 2015 with the goal of empowering school districts to transform instructional practices, shift to more effective pedagogical models, and lift student achievement at their schools.

Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, by Michael Horn and Heather Staker, whose research for the Christensen Institute provides the framework for this initiative.

Protecting Student Learning in an Online Environment

While Raise Your Hand supports the need for various settings and options for students and parents, effective teaching and learning must be at the center of Texas public education. Therefore, we believe full-time online schools must demonstrate consistent academic gains before they are allowed to expand.

It is also critical for both supplemental courses and full-time online schools to remain under the purview of TEA, so appropriate transparency and accountability is possible. Under no circumstances should the state allow “virtual vouchers,” or instances when taxpayer-funded virtual classes or schools are able to serve Texas without a partnering school district or charter school and the protections provided therein.

Districts across the state are working to better integrate technology and innovative practices in the classroom by utilizing personalized and blended learning techniques to effectively train teachers and educate students.

Virtual Courses in Texas

Current law allows all Texas students to access supplemental online courses through the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN). These courses provide value for students seeking classes that are not available in their district, or if they have special scheduling needs or are seeking course recovery.

These supplemental courses operate with appropriate monitoring and oversight, since the Texas Education Agency (TEA) approves electronic courses and professional development for online teachers, has fiscal responsibility for the network, and evaluates full-time online schools under the statewide accountability system. Day-to-day operation of the TxVSN is contracted to Education Service Center Region 10, in collaboration with the Harris County Department of Education. To enroll in one of these programs, students must have been enrolled in the prior school year in a public school in Texas.

On average, students enrolled in one or several online courses perform as well as students enrolled full-time in traditional brick and mortar classroom settings.

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Full-Time Online Schools Not Academically Proven

In addition to supplemental courses offered by the TxVSN, students in grades 3-12 may enroll in full-time online schools (sometimes referred to as virtual schools.)

Full-time online schools operated by school districts may enroll students from across the state. Online schools run by open-enrollment charter schools may enroll students from counties in Texas covered by their charter, subject to their enrollment cap.

As of the 2013-14 school year, 10,273 students were enrolled in one of the state’s eight full-time online schools.

While full-time online schools provide a unique service to students who are unable to attend a traditional public school, their track record for academic achievement is poor.

In 2013-14, well over half (58.9 percent) of full-time online school students were enrolled in a virtual school that did not meet state standards. By comparison, 7.1 percent of students in traditional public schools were enrolled in a school that did not meet state standards.

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