How do we reform school policies designed for traditional classrooms to allow educators to use new technologies?

For decades, schools have adopted and promoted policies designed to ensure the best results for traditional teaching methods.  These policies require students to fulfill minimum “seat-time” requirements and limit the school credits they can earn for online courses.  Students generally proceed on a class-by-class basis, which means that some students waste weeks reviewing skills they’ve already mastered, while others advance before they’re ready.  In a traditional school, these rules make sense.  But they don’t fit a school that can assess the performance of each student in real time, personalize each student’s curriculum, offer students a range of ways to learn and move students to new subjects when they are ready.


  • Virtual coursework is not accepted as a substitute for in-person learning

    • Virtual coursework serves as a supplement, not a replacement, for time spent in a classroom (e.g., Illinois requires 5 hours of in-person instruction daily).
    • Students who have missed courses during the traditional time frame cannot make them up virtually out of the regular school calendar (e.g., credit recovery).
    • Some states measure virtual courses with the same time-based restrictions as classroom courses (e.g., students in Washington state must spend a certain number of hours online for courses to count at all).
  • Mastery of specific topics via online learning and assessments is not accepted as proof of competency or cause for advancement

    • Students who move through material more quickly cannot move ahead and sometimes have to wait until the end of the school year to take an exam that demonstrates content mastery.
    • Struggling students may move to the next level without demonstrating mastery; states spent $3.7 billion in 2010 on remedial services for students behind grade level.
    • In many states, schools receive per-pupil funding based on seat time instead of mastery; schools receive money whether or not their students learn.
  • Funding follows students and cannot be split among providers

    • Budget for content cannot be disaggregated across sources (e.g., some spent on digital resources rather than textbooks).
    • Student time cannot be monetized and split apart (e.g., cannot have half of states' per student allocation go to virtual charter school and half to traditional school).
  • See it



Current Efforts

  • 36 states have adopted policies that allow districts to pass students based upon demonstrated mastery, rather than just time spent in class. Depending on the state and school, students can pass an exam or pass an exam and demonstrate the quality of their work in other ways to prove mastery of a subject

    • Michigan allows schools to apply for waivers and pass students based on mastery; over 200 schools have applied on behalf of over 5,500 students.
    • New Hampshire – the first state to move in this direction – does not allow schools to grade students on the basis of seat time alone; mastery must be demonstrated.
    • Oregon requires that all class work be explicitly tied to mastery of academic standards, following a pilot program in seven districts.