Last week I spoke in Columbus, Ohio to 40 legislators and other officials gathered to commemorate the first meeting of Ohio’s Digital Learning Task Force. I am optimistic about Ohio’s future as a leader in online-learning policy. The state has a lot going for it—Robert Sommers leading the task force, seven statewide virtual eCommunity schools, and the ilearnOhio clearinghouse of supplemental K-12 courses.

In addition, Governor John Kasich recently signed House Bill 153, which includes provisions that expand digital learning opportunities for Ohio students. In essence, it codifies into state law Element #1 of the 10 Digital Learning Now! (DLN) Elements. Element #1 calls upon states to ensure that all students have access to high-quality digital content.  HB 153 obliges with this element by stipulating that Ohio students have access to online courses at any point in their educational careers, without limits to the numbers of credits they can receive. That means no district can prevent students from receiving credits or grades from online courses that they take through the ilearnOhio clearinghouse. Also, ilearnOhio cannot turn away a student who is enrolled in a private or home school instead of public school.

I suspect these details in HB 153 will significantly boost Ohio’s score when Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, co-chairs of DigitalLearningNow!, release the first-ever Nation’s Report Card on Digital Learning in two days. The Report Card grades each state based on alignment with the 10 Elements.

Despite Ohio’s victory with HB 153, the legislation is far from game changing. It requires districts to recognize grades and credits from ilearnOhio courses, but it does not provide a funding mechanism for these courses. Likewise, private and home school students can enroll in ilearnOhio courses, but only if they pay for them themselves. When funding does not follow a student down to the course level, then no matter what legislation stipulates, students do not have true access to courses unless they pay for them out of pocket.

This problem illustrates how important DLN Element #9 is, the Funding Element, which directs states to provide incentives for performance, options, and innovation. Face it, districts are market economies too, in the sense that they have budgets, bottom lines, and a paying customer. When that customer, the state, pays them to serve students based on attendance, then they will be unlikely to volunteer to syphon that money to outside online-course vendors. The only way to guarantee that students truly have access to online courses is if the state incentivizes districts to become customers themselves, shopping for and purchasing the most effective opportunities for their students.

I’m excited for the release of the Report Card this week. I think it will do a lot to motivate states to improve and to clarify what needs to be done. But when it comes to the relative importance of each metric on the Report Card, I suspect that in reality, the metrics that surround Element 9 will determine 90 percent of a state’s direction.


  • Heather Staker
    Heather Staker

    Heather Staker is an adjunct fellow at the Christensen Institute, specializing in K–12 student-centered teaching and blended learning. She is the co-author of "Blended" and "The Blended Workbook." She is the founder and president of Ready to Blend, and has authored six BloomBoard micro-credentials for the “Foundations of Blended Learning” educator micro-endorsement.