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How the Common Core Will Change Online High Schools


Young girl doing homework and using laptop

The implementation of Common Core standards in states across the nation will have a major impact on online students, particularly those at the high school level.

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Many states are now adopting the Common Core standards - a set of detailed English and math standards that outline what students will learn from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. The Common Core standards aren’t a curriculum. But, they do provide specific skills students must develop and specific ways of teaching and learning that must be used within the classroom.

The implementation of Common Core standards in states across the nation will have a major impact on online students, particularly those at the high school level. Here are some of the changes parents should prepare for:

1. Less flexibility for teachers and instructional designers. In many states, online public school teachers were given a greater degree of latitude to decide how students learn. Although states will set their own requirements related to the standards, expect teachers to conduct classes in a more consistent way. Expect instructional designers to create courses that are similarly consistent from course to course.

2. Easier transfers to colleges. In the past, states have created their own standards for students. In some cases, states created extremely broad standards and left the details to districts and individual schools. Common Core changes this. The good news is that, if the Common Core is even somewhat successful in creating a baseline for student learning, colleges will now know what to expect from incoming freshmen. An online high school diploma should mean the same thing coming from any state that shares the standards.

3. Potential preparation for jobs. Similarly, over time employers will be able to recognize the skill set and thinking skills students should develop by following Common Core standards.

4. More student writing. Critical thinking and questioning are major aspects of the Common Core standards. While brick-and-mortar high schools will be conducting experiments, discussing in peer groups, and holding debates, it’s reasonable to expect that online programs will resort to writing-intensive assignments to get students thinking deeply and make up for the lack of peer interaction.

5. Fewer textbook options for online schools. While the Common Core curriculum doesn’t mandate textbooks, it does have specific requirements for the kinds of texts that students are to read and the ways that they are to read them. That means that textbook publishers wanting to remain in the game will need to rework many of their publications. Since there is a greater emphasis on reading excerpts from key nonfiction texts, states may be wary of allowing public school teachers to select their own booklists and may instead insist on selection from a collection of pre-approved textbooks.

6. A greater emphasis on virtual discussions. Critical thinking, deep reading, and discussion-based standards are likely to make online schools reconsider asynchronous programs. Online schools may begin requiring at least a minimal number of online conferences with a live teacher in order to meet these requirements.

7. Less emphasis on experimental online public schools. Many states gave online schools greater freedom to meet the needs of unique student groups (i.e. gifted students, struggling students, actors, etc). Online charter schools have often been permitted to create their curriculum around a specific theory (such as the Montessori method). Common Core adoption doesn’t mean that these unique schools will close up shop. But, it is likely to push them into adopting more mainstream tactics.

8. Pressure for online private schools to conform. The changes discussed in this article apply primarily to online public high schools – programs that are receiving state and federal funding. Private programs are likely to be exempt from following the Common Core curriculum. However, as more states sign on to the program, private schools will feel the pressure to change in order to keep up with the times and ensure that their students are competitive in college admissions decisions.

9. Opportunity for online private schools to stand out. While the pressure to conform may make some online private schools change, that doesn’t mean that every school will be the same. Big changes across the nation provide online private schools the unique opportunity to stand apart and offer something different to students that don’t quite fit into the new system. Local experimenting in education is likely to shift from publicly-funded online charter schools to parent-funded online private schools.

The good news for online learners is that their diplomas are likely to become more widely accepted and that transferring between programs or types of schools should be easier. The bad news is that this new stability will ultimately reduce the flexibility and uniqueness of individual online programs. In the coming years, online learners will ultimately have to decide for themselves whether or not the payoff was worth the cost.

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