Online learning brings stronger customer focus to school districts

Florida school districts are increasingly adapting to a more market-driven public education system. They are aggressively expanding within-district choices via more magnet schools, career academies and dual enrollment programs, and they are grudgingly approving more charter schools. But it’s in online learning where the most significant transformation is occurring.

During the legislative session which begins in January 2012, school districts will be partnering with the Florida Virtual School and private online providers to support legislation making it easier for more families to access online learning. Personalities as diverse as Jim Horne, Florida’s former education commissioner, Mark Maxwell, the Florida Virtual School’s chief governmental affairs officer, and JoAnne Glenn, assistant principal with the Pasco County, Fla., district’s eSchool, have been deliberating in an effort we call the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education, or F.A.C.E. The district online providers have concluded that using regulatory barriers to protect their market share is no longer viable, so they now support expanding the online market in hopes a smaller piece of an expanding pie will increase their enrollment numbers.

Given school districts still control 88 percent of the bricks-and-mortar market, they have shown no interest in abandoning their reliance on regulatory barriers to maintain this market share. But as their enrollment in this realm starts to slip, they will also begin rethinking their bricks-and-mortar strategy. The Miami-Dade school district, for instance, has already begun creating its own charter schools to keep charter school revenue within the district, and several other Florida school districts are expressing interest in following Dade’s lead.

The Berlin Wall in public education is slowing coming down, and as it does school districts are becoming more entrepreneurial and customer-focused. District online educators are ahead of the curve in navigating a more market-driven public education system, but their bricks-and-mortar colleagues are not far behind.

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BY Doug Tuthill

A lifelong educator and former teacher union president, Tuthill has been president of Step Up For Students since August 2008.