Using data collected from a national sample of principals this study examines the role of online and blended instruction in addressing concerns and issues facing the American high school. From its findings, it is obvious that there are certain initiatives involving online learning that directly address school reform issues such as improving graduation rates, credit recovery, building connections for students to their future college careers, differentiating instruction, and operating costs.
Improving Graduation Rates and Credit Recovery
Credit recovery has evolved into the most popular type of online course being offered at
the secondary level. Students needing such courses make up a significant portion of the
high school student population that subsequently drops out or is late in graduating.
Urban high schools, which historically have the lowest graduation rates of any schools in
the country, appear to be embracing online credit recovery as a basic part of their
While employing online courses for credit recovery, high school administrators still have
concerns about their quality and indicate that students need maturity, self-discipline, and
a certain command of basic skills (reading and mathematics) in order to succeed.
Building Bridges to College Careers
Online and blended learning courses are increasingly being used to overcome logistical
issues in programs to bridge the high school and college experiences. These courses
have allowed high schools to expand the opportunities for their students to start their
college careers while still in high school high.
High school administrators consider online elective college-level courses as an effective
means for some of the more able students to begin their college careers.
High school administrators see online learning as meeting the diverse needs of their
students whether through advanced placement, elective college courses, or credit
The major reason high school administrators cite for online and blended offerings is to
provide courses that otherwise would not be available. This strongly supports the
concept that online technology can provide differentiating instruction and more choices
for high school administrators in developing their academic programs.
Financial and Policy Issues
Survey respondents report that offering online and blended courses makes financial
sense when trying to meet specific needs for small groups of students. This allows
schools to maximize their full-time faculty resources in required and other popular
courses and to minimize offering courses in face-to-face mode for small numbers of
Respondents also see costs and funding formulae as barriers to expanding and
implementing online and blended courses. State and local education policies that follow
strict attendance-based funding formulae do not easily accommodate students taking
online or blended courses.
The Pedagogy of Online Learning
Educators express concerns that online learning is not as effective as face-to-face
instruction. Specific concerns include the need for motivation and maturity levels, study
habits and organizational skills, and adequate academic preparedness for online students
High school administrators see benefits to online learning programs that overshadow
concerns about pedagogical value — the vast majority of their schools are moving forward
with their programs and looking to expand them in the future.
Online learning is seen as a means to broaden and expand student experiences. It allows
students looking for more advanced work to test and challenge their skills by taking more
demanding instructional material. It also allows students who might be at risk to make up
coursework that they have missed in order to graduate.
Rural Schools in the Vanguard
Rural schools are in the vanguard in offering online and blended learning programs to
their students— using online courses to overcome significant problems in funding,
teacher certification, and small enrollments.
High schools in all locales are facing serious challenges, but rural schools probably have
the most difficult. Online and blended learning are a critical part of the strategy they are
employing to deal with limited tax bases, low enrollments, and difficulty in attracting and
keeping certified teachers.
Four hundred and forty one (N=441) high school administrators participated in this study. Their high
schools represent all regions and locales in the country. Of all schools in this sample, 82 percent had at
least one student enrolled in a fully online course and 38 percent had at least one student enrolled in a
blended or hybrid course.