Ever since the creation of the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) in 1997, Florida has been among the nation’s leaders in the fast-growing online learning movement. From humble origins serving 77 students with a start-up $200,000 Florida Department of Education “Break the Mold” grant, FLVS grew to serve more than 70,000 students in the 2008-2009 school year.
FLVS is not the only online provider serving Florida students. Several others provide a variety of offerings in a variety of arrangements. In part because of 2008 legislation mandating that every school district must provide students with an online learning option, Florida districts have entered into contracts with online learning providers of every stripe to help them with home-schooled students, credit-recovery options, dropout-recovery programs, and advanced courses, to name a few.
Even with this growth of online learning in Florida, many observers continue to see it as merely a small item on the education menu, providing students with more choices that may better fit their educational needs. Yet online learning is much more than that. It is a disruptive innovation that has the potential to help transform the present-day monolithic, factory-model education system into a student-centric and far more affordable one that is suited to the needs of the 21st Century.
Florida is widely viewed as an early leader in this movement — not just because of the sheer volume of its online students, but also because of some of the policies it has put in place to create a higher-quality offering centered on student needs. Interestingly enough, most of these policies only touch FLVS, not other online providers serving students in the state. As a result, there are still significant opportunities for Florida to do much more with online learning. If the state plays its cards right, it has the potential to provide many more students and families with quality choices for their education and, in the process, to transform public education.