The role of online courses at all levels of education is being considered nationwide.

For instance, Brian Kelsey, a Republican from Germantown,Tennessee serving as secretary of the Senate Education Committee, has this analysis of one school system’s innovative use of online instruction:

If the best teachers in the world are available on Internet videos, Tennessee students should have access to the best teachers in the world.

That is the idea behind the Tennessee Virtual Academy, which is offered by the Union County school system but is available to students throughout Tennessee. The academy is run by veteran educator Josh Williams with the support of K12 Inc. to provide proven and rigorous curriculum materials and to manage a large workforce of Tennessee-certified teachers.

Opponents of the new technology seized upon preliminary data from end-of-year exams this spring to suggest that online learning should be ended in Tennessee. Quite the contrary, it should be expanded.

The data cited by critics included the test results of only 181 of the 700 students who took the exam administered by the academy. Many of those students were taking the exam for the first time. More than 40 percent of them were previously home-schooled. This year more than 3,000 students will take the exam. I expect the results will improve. If they don’t, the legislature will certainly continue to re-examine the law and look for improvements. The law authorizing the creation of the academy, sponsored by Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, passed the General Assembly overwhelmingly before it was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam last year. Supporters are determined to see it succeed. Now is not the time to give up on the future of education.

New schools take time to show what they can do; for example, the Achievement School District, created by legislation from Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2010, has just begun managing the first six of 85 schools in the bottom 5 percent in Tennessee. Expect improvements to come, but don’t expect them after the first year. That is why the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS), which assigns accountability scores for schools and for classrooms, is based upon three years’ worth of end-of-year student test scores. The TVAAS is our best measurement of school success.

Kelsey concludes:

While the Tennessee Virtual Academy is but one school in the larger education reform movement, it is an important one. It is blazing a new and challenging trail in online learning and teaching us lessons that will eventually help move Tennessee students into a 21st-century learning environment necessary to obtain jobs for the future.