It’s easy to understand why the residents of Florida consider themselves “out on their own” geographically.  Expansive, forbidding swamps and miles of coastline probably have something to do with that.  This geographical isolation might be why officials have embraced technology to strengthen connections and interactions among a dispersed group of students.  Florida has recently implemented a new law that requires every high school student to take at least one course online in order to graduate.  Alabama and Michigan have adopted similar rules, and the state of Idaho is currently considering comparable obligations

By extending its digital reach, Florida state education officials hope to make a larger range of classes available to their students and hope to engage students using the new technology that they crave.  This unconventional idea has drawn some noted opposition.  But despite the counter-arguments, school officials are excited about the possibility of tapping into a groundbreaking education approach that should result in more engaging course options for students.  It would also be logical to conclude that exposure to online course environments in high school will enable students to succeed in college.  Currently, over 90% of colleges offer some form of online learning and 4 million college students are enrolled in fully online courses.

Florida needed to have a plan to meet the increased demand for online courses and has looked to Florida Virtual School to help.  Florida was the first state to establish a public virtual school.  Free to all Florida students, and supported by state tax dollars, FLVS currently provides online instruction in over 125 courses to more than 130,000 K-12 students.  With the largest state virtual school in the United States, ALL Florida school districts currently offer full- time virtual instruction programs for students in grades K-12.   Florida Virtual School saw an increase of 35% in course enrollment from 2009-2010 and has recently been recognized with national awards.  Julie Young, the president and CEO of FLVS, received the 2011 McGraw- Hill Prize in Education, which honors pioneers of digital education approaches.  “Technology in education is a great catalyst for change — for creating, managing, and communicating a new conception of learning,” said Mr. McGraw, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the McGraw-Hill Companies.

Hopefully other states will be watching – the pioneering spirit we are witnessing in Florida will surely result in greater access to education, and improved long term results for their students.  Perhaps this innovative new approach to education will reinvigorate learning and foster new opportunities for students across the United States.

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