An in-depth look at a single issue confronting the efforts to establish distance learning as an educational tool of choice.When it Comes to Virtual Education, School Districts are now Leading the Way
Fri, 10 Feb 2012 23:45:00 +0000
What started as a drip, a school district here, a school district there, has turned into a deluge. From the Oregon Coast to the valleys of Pennsylvania, from the Treasure Coast of Florida to the rural school districts in the fabled "Four Corners," where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet, to Iowa, school districts across the United States are launching online learning programs.
They are doing this, if for no other reason, in self defense.
The action taken by the Pennsylvania's Salisbury Township School Board, which serves an 11.3 square mile district outside the city of Allentown and serves about 1,800 students, is a good example of why so many school districts are starting their own virtual education programs.
In February, the school board approved creation of the Virtual Academy of Salisbury Township, or VAST. The reason: to "win back students and the nearly half-million dollars in tuition (the district sends) to cyber and other charter schools," according to the Salisbury Patch.
The local virtual school is scheduled to in August 2012.
School district's throughout Pennsylvania are launching their own virtual schools because of the revenue they are losing to cyber charter schools. In 2011, Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner called for a moratorium of creation of new cyber charter schools, which are allowed to enroll students from throughout the state. He said no new cyber charters should be authorized until a new method of allocating state education funds, one that would not be so burdensome to local district, was in place.
Since then, the Pennsylvania legislature has tried and tried again to come up with a bill that would change how the state funds cyber charter schools.
So far, no bill has made it through both houses of the legislature. Not willing to wait, Pennsylvania districts are launching their own virtual schools to compete with the statewide cyber charters.
For example, this year the Erie school district will pay almost $2.25 million for 248 students to attend online charter schools, primarily the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and Agora Cyber Charter School.
"We can sit back and lament that fact, or as the charter law intended, we can be competitive," Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams said. "And we feel we have a product that will be extremely competitive."
So, earlier this year, Erie announced the creation the Erie Public Schools Online Campus. The new program will offer online courses to students at the district's four high schools
Badams said creating the online school is a move to keep Erie tax dollars in Erie.
The story is a little different in Florida. In 2011, the "Digital Learning Now Act" allowed individual school district to strike deals with K-12 online curriculum providers. This meant that school districts could create their own virtual charter or virtual schools in competition to the state-led Florida Virtual School.
Online learning advocates quickly brought proposals before school board. The results have been mixed.
Earlier this year, the Miami-Dade School Board rejected proposals for four new virtual charter schools. According to the Miami Herald, district staff staff concluded that the four schools’ applications did not meet school district standards or the state law for virtual schools. The staff found that the charter schools failed to show how they would offer off-line help to students, and how they would communicate with parents, according to a district memo.
The staff also objected to the 50-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio proposed for the online classes at some of the schools, and questioned how the schools would provide services to students with special needs, or students who are learning English.
But virtual charter schools are not going away: According to the Miami Herald, the school district will have to review several more applications in the coming months.
In Florida's so-called Treasure Coast, which includes the counties of Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee, discussions are being held by the four counties about combining resources and creating online learning programs to serves all the students in the region.
"This is a bold, innovative and ambitious effort being undertaken by the school districts. There is cause for optimism the effort will be successful," according to an editorial in the Treasure Coast Palm. "the effort sets an example for other governmental bodies throughout the Treasure Coast to consider to improve services and programs for their constituents on a regional basis."
Money, at least attracting more federal funding, may be a reason several Oregon school districts are launching hybrid or blended learning programs. District officials say they could be eligible for up to $500,000 in federal money if their districts launch hybrid charters schools.
In Portage, Wisc., the school board has approved plans to launch a virtual school in fall 2012.
"I think this is going to be a springboard for students ... it's time," said Kristen Skolarz, vice president of the Portage School Board.
Liberating Learning Blog contributor Tom Vander Ark agrees. "Every school district needs an innovation agenda, a five-year plan that brings the benefits of personal digital learning to every student. The challenge for school leaders is to find the right balance of execution and innovation -- running a good school today and phasing in the future.
Highlights from Digital Learning Day
Wed, 01 Feb 2012 23:18:00 +0000
Maine Gov. Paul LePage issued an executive order directing his education commissioner on to develop a plan that increases online learning opportunities for Maine’s K-12 students.
LePage's order came on Digital Learning Day. A coincidence? Doubtful.
LePage and Maine's Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen are supporters of digital education and what better day to get set online learning expansion goals than on the first National Digital Learning Day.
From sea to shining sea, there were lots of events to mark Digital Learning Day.
In Alabama, students in Etowah County schools showed off how digital equipment is “the spoonful of sugar” that helps learning vocabulary go down.
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) noted the day by focusing on the policies that will help expand online education.
"Outdated state policies still tie the hands of many school districts, and block the fundamental reforms necessary for truly transformation next-generation learning, Susan Patrick, president and chief executive of iNACOL said. "States need a roadmap for change so they can accelerate the achievement of world-class educational standards for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, geography or other limitations."
Many teachers groups got on the Digital Learning Day bandwagon. For example, the National Council of Teachers of English provided its members with resources to bring digital learning to their classrooms and show how to use "technology to strengthen the student learning experience."
Liberating Learning Blog contributor Tom Vander Ark was in Ohio where is testified before the Ohio House of Representatives Committee On Education. The committee was holding a hearing on digital learning.
"Over the next few years most American schools will provide students with access devices, shift to predominantly digital instructional materials, give tests online, and support teachers with powerful tools. They will blend the best of online and onsite learning to boost achievement," Vander Ark said.
" Ohio should remove barriers to digital learning including class size ratios, and seat time requirements. The state should make sure students and families understand their learning options. To remain relevant, certification should be performance based with well-supported alternative pathways. Online resources should be provides for Ohio’s teachers," he added.
Even the New York Times, whose coverage of online learning in recent months has become a bone of contention within the virtual education community, took time to "Celebrate Digital Learning Day with 40 Years of Times EdTech Reporting."
West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Arizona are just a few of the states where attention was paid to Digital Learning Day.
"Digital Learning Day is more than just a day," said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise whose Alliance for Excellent Education started the Digital Learning Day ball rolling. "It is about building a digital learning movement that provides teachers with better tools to truly provide a quality education for every child.
"Effective technology combined with great teachers and engaged students have the potential to transform the world of learning," he added.
A Preview of Digital Learning Day
Mon, 30 Jan 2012 19:03:00 +0000
The numbers are impressive. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have signed on to participate. More than 10,000 teachers and 1.7 million students have raised their hands in support.
All for the first of what many hope will be an annual Digital Learning Day.
"Passionate education advocates have banded together—from classrooms, schools, districts, local communities, states, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and corporations—to rally around an issue that is critically important to both the nation’s students and America’s economic well-being for generations to come," former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, whose Alliance for Excellent Education launched the idea for Digital Learning Day, wrote for USA Today's Teachers' Lounge website.
"This is a celebration of teachers and administrators who are using technology as a force multiplier for good teaching practice that raises student outcomes. Through the Digital Learning Day campaign, the Alliance hopes teachers will be empowered to try something new using their talents and expertise to create challenging and effective learning environments for every child in their classroom," Wise added.
What can we expect on Digital Learning Day? Well, in Los Angeles, the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools will announce an "innovative blended learning strategy across its network of schools followed by a media tour of classrooms to showcase blended learning in action at Dolores Huerta Elementary School.
The Partnership was founded in 2007 and is part of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to improve education in Los Angeles. It is a collaboration between the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District to turn around LA’s lowest performing schools. The Partnership manages 22 schools with nearly 17,000 students and 1,500 employees.
"By bringing technology into the classroom we are providing students with the kind of invaluable exposure to technology they need to compete in today’s technologically advanced job market. But technology alone isn’t enough, which is why we are undergoing an aggressive blended learning strategy that couples rigorous teaching tools that engage and inspire with teacher training and tailored instruction," said Marshall Tuck, chief executive of the Partnership.
Over in Ohio, Digital Learning Day will be a day-long celebration that will feature Liberating Learning Blog contributor Tom Vander Ark and include testimony before an Ohio House of Representatives Education Committee.
According to KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati-based social enterprise that supports innovative education initiatives, Vander Ark and Lisa Duty, director of external affairs for KnowledgeWorks, will testify before
Education Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives on digital learning issues. Vander Ark will also participate in a book chat at The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology and the Ohio Resource Center. Later in the evening, Vander Ark will speak at a reception sponsored by several online learning advocacy groups including eTech Ohio.
Kansas plans to release the results of statewide survey on digital learning on Feb. 1. Wisconsin will release its statewide digital learning plan. And in Michigan, Digital Learning Day will be used as part of the kick-off of the state's "Year of the Digital Learner."
"As we approach this day, and as district schools, charter schools, and states around the country participate, we must make sure that this doesn't become a day that is all about technology for technology’s sake," Michael. B. Horn, a Liberating Learning Blog contributor wrote.
"The critical thing is to fashion a student-centric system powered by digital learning that allows each child to realize his or her fullest human potential. Technology in this vision becomes the backbone that helps us to customize an education for each child’s unique learning needs, not the gadget that’s just there because it’s cool or because we simply think learning through or with technology is the way we should do it now," he added.
At the center of this national celebration of digital learning will be two virtual gatherings. The Alliance for Excellent Education will host a webcast featuring moderated videos and discussion on innovation,instruction strategies and professional development opportunities.
The webcast will feature schools and educators from North Carolina to California, form Colorado to Texas.
At 1 p.m. Eastern, there will be a virtual National Town Hall on digital learning, featuring Federal Communication Chairman Julius Genachowski and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Links for the webcast and the town hall will be posted on Liberating Learning.
What People are Saying about Fordham's 'The Cost of Online Learning'
Mon, 16 Jan 2012 21:55:00 +0000
It's for good reason the virtual education movement paused and took notice of the early January release of "The Cost of Online Learning."
For one thing, this is the Fordham Institute's third in a series of papers that look at the online learning movement. These reports focus on the policies of the virtual education movement and provide guideposts that could help the movement grow.
Secondly, the issue of how much does--and should--online learning cost, especially when compared to a bricks-and-mortar education, is a big issue.
In many instances, online learning has been sold to policy makers as a less-expensive alternative to traditional education. This has made virtual and digital alternatives attractive to lawmakers in cash-strapped states. These policy makers want to provide a quality education to all children, but want to do it a rock-bottom cost.
But as online learning makes faster in-roads into public education, non-profit and for-profit providers are saying that a quality education still needs a reasonable financial foundation. Lawmakers have been surprised that that financial foundation is more than they expected.
That's why Fordham's "The Cost of Online Learning" gained so much attention so quickly. It is one of the first research papers to set the funding bar.
Liberating Learning Blog contributor Tom Vander Ark was one of the first online learning thought leaders to weigh in with an opinion on the Fordham paper.
"Online learning providers won't agree with the projected 35% savings. They would say that with staffing ratios not all that different from traditional schools there is some opportunity for cost savings -- maybe half of what" the researchers came up with, Vander Ark wrote.
"Real costs also depend a lot on the clients. It may cost twice as much to serve over-aged and under-credited youth with multiple risk factors than it does to serve motivated well-supported students," he continued..
"The real cost of producing college and career ready graduates depends on the student population and the risk factors they bring to school," Vander Ark added.
In Education Sector Managing Editor Bill Tucker's blog, "The Quick & The Ed," he wrote that "while the paper cannot offer definitive answers for policymakers and school leaders, it does provide a helpful primer on the overall economics of online and blended learning."
"The author’s cost figures reflect estimates of what online and blended schools are currently spending, rather than what they should be spending. In other words, since we have little understanding of how spending relates to student outcomes, the authors cannot say much about either the effectiveness or productivity of this spending. Is it the right amount? We just don’t know," Tucker wrote.
Susan Patrick , president and chief executive the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), called the report "a serious effort to look into the cost driers for online and blended programs."
But Patrick also issued a warning.
"In any case, claims that per-student costs (included in the research report) could approach these numbers could be dangerous, because they may encourage school districts and other authorities looking for online learning solutions to sacrifice the quality of education for cost," Patrick wrote. "The largest costs in online learning programs, blended learning programs and traditional education programs are faculty and people. So while important funding decisions do need to be made, these decisions must reflect a better understanding of the cost drivers and the 'average costs' necessary to provide high-quality and cost-efficient online education for all students with people providing support. Online and blended learning can help students access the best teachers to provide personalized instruction to meet individual student needs."Overall, the focus of our efforts should be on student outcomes, results and success. State legislators and education policymakers should work to ensure that not only does their funding enable them to provide students with the opportunity to learn online, but also that it provides every student with the opportunity to access a world-class education," Patrick concluded.
Legislative and Virtual Education Policy Outlook for 2012
Mon, 02 Jan 2012 21:36:00 +0000
If 2011 was any indication, 2012 will be a busy year for the online learning community.
This week, state legislatures from Kentucky to California, from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York to Missouri, Pennsylvania and back to Rhode Island, will open legislative sessions that may become one of the busiest sessions for virtual education advocates.
Here is a breakdown of a few states, including the District of Columbia, and the issues that are sure to surface in to the upcoming year.
--Michigan: The House has yet to vote on lifting cap on virtual schools. Action is expected sometime in January.
--Pennsylvania: State legislature has yet to come up with a funding plan for cyber charter schools. While the legislature debates, individual school districts are developing, and launching, their own cyber schools as a way to retain students, and state funding.
--Tennessee: Lots has been made of the way this state funded its first virtual charter school. The relationship between the Union County School District and K12 Inc. has attracted national attention. Expect the Tennessee legislature to revisit on virtual schools are funded.
-- Idaho: A tumultuous battle to get an edtech-center reform package, including Idaho becoming the nation's first state to require that students take two online courses in order to graduate from high school, isn't over. Opponents to the reforms obtained enough signatures to place a referendum to repeal the plan on the November ballot. Expect another knock-down battle leading to the fall vote.
In 2011, governors in these states promised to expand online learning opportunities. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was one of the governors making such a pledge, however the Nevada legislature does not have a regular session scheduled for 2012.
Devil in the Detail
These states passed historic virtual education legislation in 2011. This year, full implementation will start. Many will be watching to see what happens.
Primed for Change
These states, among others, are the ones to watch for legislative debate and action on expanding online opportunities.
--Florida: The county-level/school district debate over creation of cyber charter schools has already started. Some charters have been approved. Other plans have been rejected. The policy of allowing school district to individually authorize and launch their own cyber charters was part of the 2011 "Digital Learning Now Act." This grass-root movement is definitely worth watching.
--California: This state has been a backwater in the virtual education community. Here's why things may change in 2012:
- A petition drive to place an initiative on the ballot that would expand online learning opportunities in the state.
- A plan to revive a bill that would allow state education funding to follow the student, no matter what public school choice the student makes.
- The chance for Rocketship Education to show that its blended learning network is scalable (Rocketship Education became the largest charter school operator in Silicon Valley in late 2011. It also has a handshake agreement with the District of Columbia schools chief to create eight schools in the nation's capital.)
6 Trends in Online Learning to Watch for in 2012
Fri, 30 Dec 2011 18:33:00 +0000
1. Several states will focus on online learning in politics and policy.
Keep an eye on Michigan (continuation from 2011), Idaho (a big referendum on edtech reforms on the November 2012 ballot), Minnesota, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virgina and possibly, California.
2. More school district creating their own virtual schools or cyber charter schools.
This trend is happening now in Pennsylvania, where school districts are trying to bring back students who left for cyber charters. The Pennsylvania move is also happening as a way for school districts to retain money they send to cyber charters. In Florida, school districts are holding hearing on proposals for local cyber charters that will compete with the Florida Virtual School. This is a result of the 2011 passage of the "Digital Learning Now Act" which allowed school districts to directly contract with online learning providers. As online learning becomes more popular as a K-12 option, expect more districts to create their own.
3. Blended/hybrid learning model becomes the dominate player in the virtual education movement.
Almost everyone seems to be able to get their arms around this version of virtual education. An example is that Rocketship Education just got the go ahead to launch 20 hybrid schools in the Silicon Valley. That makes the hybrid school network the largest charter manager in Silicon Valley.
4. More states approve edtech-centered reform plans.
From Massachusetts to New Mexico, from Nebraska to Georgia, expect to see edtech reforms on the political agenda.
5. More attention will be directed to edu-preneurs; there will be more merger & acquisition activity among edtech companies and online learning curriculum providers.
6. More students will have a mobile device for elearning.
From 1:1 laptop programs to smartphones and tablets, back-to-school backpacks in 2012 will have some kind of device. What's more, the cable companies are stepping up with reduced prices for broadband services in low-income communities. If the will is there, the digital divide can be bridged.
2011: A Look Back at an Amazing Year for the Virtual Education Movement
Mon, 19 Dec 2011 23:05:00 +0000
To say a lot happened in the K-12 virtual education community in 2011 is an understatement.
There is growing support for expanding online learning opportunities and customized learning programs using the Internet and a variety of digital tools among educators, teachers, students and policy makers. The debate has moved from "what if" to, in many cases, to "how" and "when."
In 2011, there were a series of political victories from Utah and Idaho to Indiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Florida.
In states where there was little to no action on the virtual education front, things changed. New Jersey approved its first virtual charter schools, which will serve students throughout the state. The New York Board of Regents gave its OK to a seat-time wavier, which allows students to get credit for mastering a subject, instead of getting credit for the hours they sit in a classroom.
Four states and several districts have mandated that students take at least one online class in order to graduate from high school.
But there still are major challenges facing widespread implementation of online learning policies.
There is growing debate over how to fund virtual schools. Yes, virtual education may be a way to save money, but the savings is not immediate as some would like. And disputes over adequate funding led two virtual charters in Georgia to refuse to open their doors. The schools said the per pupil money allocated by the state, much lower than what a bricks-and-mortar school would receive, was not enough to provide a quality education.
Georgia officials increased the per pupil allocation, still below what students at traditional campuses receive, but enough that the virtual charters plan to open in fall 2012.
Funding was at the heart of an ongoing Pennsylvania controversy that led to state Auditor Gen. Jack Wagner to call for a moratorium on the creation of new virtual charter schools. At the end of the 2011, the Pennsylvania legislature continued to grapple with a new funding formula.
Retaining the money that follows students away from traditional school districts to virtual education programs is one reason a growing number of school districts either launched or started investigating how to launch their own virtual education programs. According to the 2010 edition of Keeping Pace: K-12 Online Learning, virtual education programs sponsored by traditional school districts is one of the fastest growing segments of the online learning community.
Many of the policy successes in 2011 can be attributed to the leadership of Digital Learning Now, a bi-partisan effort that created guidelines and model legislation to help state lawmakers create policies that nurtured growth of virtual education at the state level.
Flipped Classroom: A Pro/Con Debate
Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:23:00 +0000
There is passion on both sides of the Flipped Classroom Debate.
For the uninitiated, the flipped classroom concept was made popular by Sal Kahn, the hedge fund analyst turned edu-preneur. Kahn's view is that students used view a video lecture at home for homework and use classroom time for one-on-one time with the teacher or group projects.
Proponents of the flipped classroom see this as a way to combine the best of technology and the best of traditional classroom methods. "It not only can, but has changed the lives of many students," writes Jon Bergmann, who, according to EdRech.us, is a pioneer of the flipped classroom movement.
Not so fast, counter flipped classroom skeptics.
"While I certainly see the benefits in flipping instruction," writes Lisa Nielsen for Tech & Learning, "there are also reasons to move ahead with caution."
Click here to read more of Bergmann's post, "The Flipped Classroom Revisited."
Click here to read more of Nielson's post, "Five Reasons I'm not Flipping Over the Flipped Classroom."
Crisis with State Budgets Turns into Crisis for Funding Virtual Education
Tue, 22 Nov 2011 00:02:00 +0000
An interesting trend is rippling across the United State and it is hurting the progress of online learning.
When state budgets are being trimmed, money is being taken away from virtual education programs.
Let's start with Delaware. In 2008, Delaware launched the Delaware Virtual School as a pilot program. It offered six online courses through 27 high schools and serving nearly 300 students. But as Delaware legislators grappled with falling revenues, the virtual school’s budget was eliminated.
A limited version of the pilot program continued through the 2008-2009 school year, but then came an $800 million state budget deficit. The program did not receive funding for 2009-2010 school year. Ditto for the 2010-2011 school year.
Missouri is in a similar situation. Missouri looked as if it would be a leader in developing statewide online learning programs. That all changed in 2009.
A state fiscal crisis led legislators to take away most money from online learning initiatives. For the 2009-2010 school year, the legislature appropriate $4.8 million for the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MoVIP). This was a decrease of 17%.
MoVIP course enrollments dropped 82% from 15,810 in 2008-2009 to 2,900 in 2009-2010. What's more, to meet budget constraints, and to accommodate the demand for courses, MoVIP temporarily limited the number of courses a student can enroll in to five from six.
Additionally, the Missouri Virtual school closed at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. A few months later, 45 teachers who lost their jobs in the fall of 2009 when the state cut funding for MoVIIP. They claimed contracts guaranteed them positions with MoVIP for a full year.
Earlier this year in Texas, the state legislature cut funding to the Texas Virtual School Network. The result: enrollment in the network is down to about 1,700 students this fall to around 1,300 students. Texas districts are scrambling to find money to create their own virtual education programs.
iNACOL Report on International K-12 Online Learning: Everybody's Doing It
Thu, 10 Nov 2011 21:08:00 +0000
This is supposed to be the big week for the annual "Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning "report. So far, that's the way it's turned out.
But attention must be paid to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning's (iNACOL) second international survey of blended and online learning programs. If you need proof that virtual education is an international movement, you must read "Online and Blended Learning: A Survey of Policy and Practice of K-12 Schools around the World."
In 2006, the first time iNACOL conducted this international study of online learning around the world, researchers sent surveys to over 60 countries and received 17 responses
For the 2011 report, 60 surveys were sent and iNACOL received a total of 50 completed surveys.
An impressive increase in participation which suggests that something really is happening here.
"Capitalizing on widely embraced digital tools, the landscape of the 21st century classroom will be markedly different than any time in history. The World Future Society predicts that learning will become more personalized, less delineated between seat time and free time, with greater implementation of gaming and social networking. At 800 million users—75 percent of which reside outside the United States—Facebook proves that trend already exists outside of the classroom. The onus is on national and school-level leaders to tap into the potential that digital learning provides," according to the researchers.
"The ramifications of digital access to superior education for all students in every country are profound; highly educated citizens will impact the global, knowledge-based economy," they added.
The report is 130 pages of clearly written research and chock full of examples. Highlights and challenges of virtual education equally share the spotlight in this report.
Particularly interesting is the section which breaks down the status of online learning nation by nation. From Kosovo to Brazil, from Botswana to Singapore, iNACOL's report captures what is fast-becoming a worldwide movement.
Legislative and Market Successes Round Out Keeping Pace's Top Trends
Sun, 06 Nov 2011 23:17:00 +0000
The impact of Digital Learning Now on the legislative process. The intersection of Common Core Standards and virtual eduction. The growth of start-up companies and "edu-preneurs" in providing online learning products. Increased focus on online learning and special needs students.
These are the trends that researchers for the annual Keeping Pace with K-12 Learning unveiled in the days before the entire report is issued.
While all these trends are notable, and have a direct impact on the continued growth and acceptance of virtual education, probably the most impressive direction is the number of states that adopted new virtual education laws.
The Keeping Pace researchers reported that 16 states passed online learning laws. "New online learning legislation in Florida, Utah, Idaho, Ohio, and Wisconsin will change the education landscape in those states in coming years," according to the sneak peek at the full report.
The blog post also noted that many of the states cited Digital Learning Now's "Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning" in the laws. Florida even named it's law the "Digital Learning Now Act."
The new players entering the market to provide virtual education software, curriculum, management services and more is another important milestone. Entrepreneurs see virtual education as an expanding, and profitable, arena. Additionally, the provider landscape changed with the acquisition of some of the long-time independents, such as Pearson's $400 million purchase of Connections Academy.
Liberating Learning will provide more analysis and try to put the Keeping Pace research in context in the upcoming week.
Khan Academy to get Physical
Fri, 04 Nov 2011 18:23:00 +0000
Everybody's talking about how Khan Academy just secured a $5 million grant.
But that's not the big news.
Khan Academy is going to open a bricks-and-mortar school somewhere in Northern California (probably in Silicon Valley's Mountain View or Los Altos area) in summer 2012.
Hello blended learning experiment.
According to TechCrunch, "the physical school ... will be run as a series of summer school camps."
"The camp will be a testing ground for curricula that will, over time, develop into a complete academic experience and serve as a model for real-world schools worldwide," TechCrunch quotes Khan.
In the press release announcing the $5 million grant, Khan states:
"The school of the future will not resemble the school of today. In the past, the assembly-line, lecture-homework-exam model existed because that's what was possible in the no-tech and low-tech classrooms of their day."
In case you do not know Salman Khan, he is the former hedge fund analyst who who turned a series of YouTube videos about algebra created to help tutor his cousins into a free, online education platform and nonprofit organization.
Khan has tested his idea of "flipped' curriculum--that is lectures on video, in-class teaching time spent on individual instruction and group projects--in several Silicon Valley schools.
In addition to the $5 million from the O'Sullivan Foundation, Khan Academy raised more than $2 million from Google and The Gates Foundation.
Part of the O'Sullivan money will go to expanding the Khan Academy curriculum and to hiring faculty. Previously, Khan's subject focus was on math, science and engineering. These are areas Khan feels comfortable with since he has math and science degrees from MIT and a Harvard MBA. Additionally, Khan was Khan Academy's only instructor.
The new funding will allow the Khan Academy to expand into the arts and the humanities and to add faculty.
For all of Khan Academy's success, there are some critics. Audrey Watters of Hack Education posted this recently.
"No doubt, Khan has done something incredible by creating thousands of videos, distributing them online for free, and now designing an analytics dashboard for people to monitor and guide students’ movements through the Khan Academy material. And no doubt, lots of people say they’ve learned a lot by watching the videos. The ability pause, rewind, and replay is often cited as the difference between 'getting' the subject matter through classroom instruction and 'getting it' via Khan Academy’s lecture-demonstrations," Watters wrote.
"But that’s the crux of the problem right there: lecture-demonstrations. Although there’s a tech component here that makes this appear innovative, that’s really a matter of form, not content, that’s new. There’s actually very little in one of the videos that distinguishes Khan from 'traditional' teaching. A teacher talks. Students listen. And that’s 'learning.' Repeat over and over again (Pause, rewind, replay in this case). And that’s 'drilling,' " she added.
Keeping Pace: It is the Best of Times, the Worst of Times for State-Led Virtual Schools
Tue, 01 Nov 2011 19:03:00 +0000
The folks behind the annual compendium on the state of K-12 online education in the United State, the Evergreen Education Group's Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning, continue to tease us with findings from their 2010-2011 report, which is scheduled to be unveiled on Nov. 8.
Some of the early revelations have been astonishing. There is more expansion of online learning opportunities in school districts than at the state level (a true reversal of fortune); and that these school districts are developing more blended learning programs than pure virtual education programs.
Other of the teasers released by the Keeping Pace researchers aren't so dramatic. Regional education organizations such as county offices of education, public-private partnerships, are increasing their roles in developing and expanding online programs; and more states have full-time online schools (thanks to new laws on the books in states such as Tennessee and Indiana).
But the most recent trend announced by Keeping Pace is one of the most noteworthy. State-led virtual schools, the researchers report, are " diverging into two tiers."
"While 40 states have a state virtual school or similar state-led initiative, these programs are increasingly falling into two divergent categories: those that are sustainably funded at a level to have a real impact on their states, and those that do not have a level of reliable support," Keeping Pace researchers wrote.
"States in the former category include Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, Idaho, and Alabama. Other state programs are in decline, mostly due to funding cuts. These include programs in Maryland, Missouri, and California," the authors added.
The future of state-led virtual schools was placed under the microscope earlier this year when Bryan Setser, vice president for advisory services for Open Education Solutions, speculated on the future of these once disruptive innovations.
"Are state-led virtual schools in trouble? I pondered this question quite a bit when I resigned my post as CEO of the North Carolina Virtual Public School in April. Three reasons led to my decision and continue to fuel my advisory work for Open Education Solutions," Sester wrote.
Setser's questions: Can state-led virtual schools be nimble? Can choice coexist with competent and creative curators? Can state virtual schools get out of their own way?
The Keeping Pace researchers ended their glimpse of their state-led virtual school findings on a positive note. "All state virtual schools together accounted for 536,000 course enrollments (one student taking one semester-long course) in SY 2010-11, an annual increase of 19%."
Click here to read more on Setser's take on the future of virtual schools.
Click here to read more on some of the trends Keeping Pace researchers will unveil next week.
Keeping Pace with Keeping Pace 2011-2012
Wed, 26 Oct 2011 21:49:00 +0000
Let the data speak for itself.
In autumn, the virtual education community turns its eyes to the Evergreen Education Group for the comprehensive tally of what's going on in K-12 online learning. The vehicle: electronic and print versions of "Keeping Pace."
This year, the annual compendium is scheduled to be released on Nov. 8. To prime the pump, researchers are promising daily posts with the "top nine" trends they noted as they gathered information for the survey.
"K-12 online and blended learning have evolved in new directions in the past year. While now familiar segments of the field, such as online charter schools and state virtual schools, have continued to grow, relatively new forms such as consortium programs and single-district programs are expanding even more rapidly, as is the range of private providers competing to work with districts. As of late 2011, online and blended learning opportunities exist for at least some students in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia,
but no state has a full suite of full-time and supplemental options for students at all grade levels," the researchers wrote in a preliminary post.
No. 1: Online classes in school districts are the fastest growing segment of online and blended learning.
That's right. "Several years ago, state-level and statewide schools and programs were driving most online learning activity. That is no longer the case; now the bulk of activity is at the district level. A second important area of growth is among consortium programs, as districts choose to combine resources to create cost effective online opportunities," according to the Keeping Pace researchers.
No. 2: Most school districts are offering blended, rather than pure virtual or online learning classes.
"A corollary to the growth of district online programs is that many of these options blend online and face to-face learning, instead of being entirely online as many state-level schools were. One reason is simple: Districts are often serving their own students, who are local, so there is limited need to bridge large distance," wrote the Keeping Pace Team.
Click here to read more of Keeping Pace's sneak peek of the top nine trends in online learning.
Liberating Learning will keep pace with the unveiling of the top nine and alert you when they are posted.
It's a Flipping Controversy
Thu, 20 Oct 2011 19:21:00 +0000
EdSurge got it right. There is a growing debate over the flipped classroom model and it is fascinating to watch this controversy grow.
First, a definition. The Flip Model is being championed by Sal Khan, a former hedge fund analyst who became an accidental education entrepreneur when algebra videos he made to help some cousins went viral.
A flipped approach features a video lecture that the student can watch "any time, any where," let's say at home in place of traditional homework assignments. This frees classroom time for the teacher to work with individual students or for students to work in teams.
In a article for Education Next, Bill Tucker, managing editor of Education Sector quotes Colorado chemistry teacher Jonathan Bergmann about the flipped method.
"Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it’s not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference. In his classes, Bergmann says, students can’t just 'watch the video and be done with it.' He checks their notes and requires each student to come to class with a question. And, while he says it takes a little while for students to get used to the system, as the year progresses he sees them asking better questions and thinking more deeply about the
content. After flipping his classroom, Bergmann says he can more easily query individual students, probe for misconceptions around scientific concepts, and clear up incorrect notions."
So why is the flipped method so controversial? Some flip opponents worry about the digital divide.
"Uruguay ranks ahead of the United States in laptop distribution. Maine is the only state to make a significant investment toward ensuring all students even have the computer technology they'd need to watch videos at home. And even giving students laptops doesn't mean they can access the Internet at home. With poverty skyrocketing, some families simply can't afford it," writes Liz Dwyer, education editor of website GOOD.
Dwyer also says, "The other element left out of the flipped classroom discussion is that watching a video is no more active or engaging than reading a textbook. And what happens when a high school student is assigned videos from all six of her classes? Do we really expect students to watch two or three hours of videos at night?"
Vancouver, B.C. teacher David Wees tried the flipped method and decided to drop it.
"Some students chose, despite repeated requests from me, to only watch videos and do exercises that were really easy for them, instead of advancing their knowledge. One student said 'she liked the easy videos because it was easy to get points.' Another student said she chose the easy exercises because 'she was worried about getting problems wrong.' These students were more focused on getting easy
points and avoiding challenges than learning," Wees writes.
Indiana teacher Brian Bennett argues that the flipped method isn't just about the videos.
"The flipped classroom is about making connections with learners and differentiating your instruction. If videos are a part of that multi-faceted plan, great. If they are not, still great. The flipped class is an ideology, not a methodology," Bennett writes.
Bill Tucker, in his Education Next article, seems to summarize the feeling of the moment best.
"Given education’s long history of fascination with new instructional approaches that are later abandoned, there’s a real danger that flipping, a seemingly simple idea that is profound in practice, may be reduced into the latest educational fad. And, in today’s highly polarized political environment, it also runs the risk of being falsely pigeonholed into one of education’s many false dichotomies, such as the age-old pedagogical debate between content knowledge and skills acquisition."
Part 2: Digital Learning Now's National Report Card on virtual Education Movement
Thu, 13 Oct 2011 21:59:00 +0000
It's no secret in the education reform world that the leadership and supporters of Digital Learning Now spent a lot of time and effort working on legislation that expanded online learning opportunities in Florida, Utah, and Idaho. Digital Learning Now is to be congratulated for helping edtech reformers in those states achieve legislatively.
This is one reason Liberating Learning won't be spotlighting these states in this first look at Digital Learning Now's "National Report Card" on the virtual education movement.
Attention must be paid to what's going on in other states. In Part 1 of these reports, Liberating Learning Twitter followers asked that the spotlight was placed on California, Missouri, New York, Montana and North Carolina.
This time around, the focus will be on Texas, Alaska, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
As in the earlier report, DLN used several methods to characterize the status of digital learning in the states.
Numbers are used to provide a quick view of how DLN sizes up a state--0 is the low, 10 is the high.
DLN also uses labels to characterize the standing of each state when it comes to meeting DLN's "10 Elements."
These "levels of attainment" are:
Achieved: indicates that the state has adopted the measure through law, rule or
Partial: indicates the entire range of policies and circumstances between Not Yet and Achieved.
Not Yet: indicates that the state has no policy, a permissive policy that is not effectively achieving the vision or a policy that conflicts with the measure.
If any of this analysis is in dispute, governors and state school chiefs will have until Dec. 31 to challenge DLN's findings.
So here goes:
Texas: Maybe the DLN researchers didn't want to mess with Texas, because there is barely anything in the written synopsis. All they said was, "Texas has the opportunity to lead the nation in transforming education for the digital age," which is the boilerplate language used when the narrative is launched for most of the reviewed states. Numeric scores for Texas range from 0 for "infrastructure" ("Infrastructure supports digital learning"), to 9 for "quality choices" ("All students have access to multiple high quality digital learning providers"). The report card itself is peppered with "achieveds" and "not yets."
Alaska: With its wide open spaces and its vastness, one might assume that Alaska would embrace virtual education as a means to bring quality academics to children, no matter where they live. But according to the DLN researchers, the state is not a leader in online education. It ranks high it having barriers to access to digital education. Alaska lacks the infrastructure to support digital learning and it ranks low in allowing students to progress based on competency. However, Alaska gets an off-the-chart "11" for personalized
learning. Maybe that is a reflection of the state's long-time comfort with correspondence course education. The best the researchers could say was that "a growing number of school districts are offering online and blended options, and the state-level Alaska Virtual Learning Network is creating new opportunities for students."
Tennessee: Another state where the narrative is short, sweet and non-committal. Numeric grades are in the lower reaches. For example, it received a "0" for funding (creating "incentives for performance, options and innovation"). There are more "not yets" than any other comments in the report card.
Pennsylvania: This state has been, will be, and currently is, a hotbed of activity when it comes to virtual education. The PA Cyber Charter is, as the researchers report, "the nation's largest virtual charter." How it is funded, how its student rank on standardized test and what the future holds for it are currently being debated. Local school district throughout Pennsylvania are launching their own online learning programs to lure students--and state education money--away from PA Cyber Charter and back to the districts. With
all of this going on, it's interesting that the DLN researchers gave Pennsylvania low numeric rankings for "quality content," "quality instruction," and 'assessment and accountability." The state did rank high in "quality choices," and "student access."
Ohio: This is another that Digital Learning Now spent time and effort in 2011 to push the virtual education legislative agenda. The effort was somewhat successful with the legislature creating "a task force to identify ways to expand digital learning in the state," according to the DLN narrative. Researchers added: "Watch for a bold reform agenda next legislative session." The state's numeric rankings run from "0" for infrastructure to "8" for "quality choices." A mixed bag for the Buckeye State, but Digital Learning Now believes Ohio is a comer in the online learning world.
Part 1: Digital Learning Now's National Report Card on virtual Education Movement
Thu, 13 Oct 2011 20:52:00 +0000
You definitely need a score card to follow the grading system Digital Learning Now used for its first National Report Card on digital education.
The state-by-state look at the status of digital learning, and the assignment of "grades" to each state is based on 72 metrics developed by Digital Learning Now. These metrics are based on DLN's "10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning." These elements, published last year, were used as the foundation for virtual education legislation from Idaho to Florida. In fact, the 2010 Florida virtual education law was called "The Digital Learning Now Act."
Numbers are used to provide a quick view of how DLN sizes up a state--0 is the low, 10 is the high.
DLN also uses labels to characterize the standing of each state when it comes to meeting DLN's "10 Elements." These "levels of attainment" are:
Achieved: indicates that the state has adopted the measure through law, rule or
Partial: indicates the entire range of policies and circumstances between Not Yet and Achieved.
Not Yet: indicates that the state has no policy, a permissive policy that is not effectively achieving the vision or a policy that conflicts with the measure.
If any of this analysis is in dispute, governors and state school chiefs will have until Dec. 31 to challenge DLN's findings.
Why all the emphasis on digital learning. The "Roadmap to Reform," DLN released today says it all.
"Digital learning ensures students are never bored and never left behind. Students who excel in a subject can move ahead academically. Conversely, students who are struggling in a particular subject can spend extra time mastering those skills with guidance from their teacher – either remotely or face-to-face. In schools that adopt blended learning, these students can remain in the same class as their peers even as their individual learning takes them on different paths."
There are some cool features to the online version of the report card. By clicking individual states, the viewer can compare several the results of several states next to each other.
That said, Liberating Learning Twitter followers asked that the results of these states be spotlighted first: California, Missouri, New York, Montana and North Carolina. Here goes:
California: The Golden State is not so golden when it comes to digital learning. Numeric grades ranged from 0-4. The state received more "not yets" (for example, private school students are eligible for publicly-funded digital learning, home education students are eligible for publicly-funded digital learning, State law ensures publicly-funded digital learning is available for all middle school students) than "achieved" (under state law, district public school students are eligible for publicly-funded digital learning, under state law, charter public school students are eligible for publicly-funded digital learning). DLN researchers added that the state "should repeal regulations that limit online schools to contiguous counties to allow online learning to flourish and expand."
Missouri: Missouri numeric scores run the gamut from 1-10. For infrastructure ("Infrastructure supports digital learning"), 1. But the state received a 10 for "quality of choices" ("All students have access to multiple high quality digital learning providers"). The researchers added the "Missouri has a statewide program for individual online courses from multiple providers, Missouri Virtual Instruction Program. The program is currently funded by a very low line-item appropriation for students who are medically fragile. Missouri could exponentially expand its digital learning options by requiring school districts to provide unfettered access to
individual online courses offered by program using existing funding through the per pupil funding formula."
New York: Like so many other states, DLN's researchers wrote that New York has the opportunity to be a leader in the edtech revolution. So far, well, New York's DLN numeric scores were all three and below. The state got deserved credit for abandoning seat-time rules when it comes to digital courses, but more often than not, the "not yet" label was attached to the survey's metrics. Finally, the reviewers did give a nod to iLearnNYC, which they said, "is offering online and blended courses within the nation’s largest school district."
Montana: Results from this state are a mixed bag. Montana does not authorize charter schools. It does not have a state-led virtual school. But private school and home-schooled students are eligible for publicly-funded digital learning. This is probably the reason Montana's highest numeric score, 5, was for "student access," that is the ability for all students in the state to be "digital learners." The researchers added: "Montana can expand digital learning by opening the state to more providers of digital learning,
including charter schools."
North Carolina: North Carolina has the second largest state virtual school. That would make one think that the state would be in the top echelon of states. According to the DLN research, that's not the case. Digital education "growth slowed this year with the switch from line-item funding to money-follows-the-students," according the researchers. "Removing the ability for school districts to deny access and requiring students to take an online course for graduation could jumpstart enrollment." North Carolina's numeric rankings range from 0-4. There are more "not yet" ranking than "achieved." The researchers did find a bright spot, "a growing number of districts are adding online and blended options."
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming later this afternoon, of this report when five more states will be spotlighted.
How Many Kids are Enrolled in K-12 Virt. Ed. Classes?
Thu, 13 Oct 2011 19:12:00 +0000
The data is starting to roll out of the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s 2011 National Summit on Education Reform in San Francisco. Here's a sneak peek of some of the material in the "Roadmap for Reform."
Using enrollment figures supplied by the sponsors of "Keeping Pace with K12 Online Learning 2011" Digital Learning Now's "Roadmap for Reform" report that for the 2010-2011 school year, there were 217,321 full-time digital learners in the United States and 538,127 part-time digital learners.
These stats are "estimates for the 2010-11 school year, based on the forthcoming (Keeping Pace with K12 Online Learning) report which will be released in November 2011," Digital Learning researchers wrote.
What will be interesting with updated figures--and maybe we won't know until the 2012-2013 enrollment figures are in--is the impact new laws in Utah, Idaho, Florida and other states will have on enrollment growth in blended and virtual education.
For the time being, according to the report, "data includes enrollments in state virtualschools and full-time online schools that operate regionally or across a state, as these are the schools that are typically available to all students in a state. Single district schools are not included.
"For full-time schools, the number is unique students, most of whom take all of their courses from the online school," the Roadmap for Reform report continues. "For state virtual schools, course enrollments, equal to one student taking one semester-long course, are included. Data on blended learning programs is not included.Data on enrollment in individual online courses at the district level is not included."
Click here for the complete report. And stay tuned, Liberating Learning will be spotlighting the Digital Learning Now's "State Digital Learning Report Card" when it is released later today.
Online Classes in Order to Graduate From High School are Here to Stay
Wed, 28 Sep 2011 22:06:00 +0000
Here's the "Back to School Night" message parents of high school students in Florida, Idaho, Utah, Michigan, New Mexico, Alabama, Memphis, Tenn., and scores of school district across the United States heard:
In order to graduate, your son or daughter is going to have to take, at the very least, one course via the Internet.
Yes, online graduation requirements are here to stay
"Requiring students to learn online helps improve their technological abilities and prepares them for college (where most will have at least a little online learning) and the workplace (where virtual
training is becoming more popular each year),"Jamie Littlefield wrote in her weekly About.com column on online learning.
Michigan was one of the first states to require that students successfully complete an online class in order to graduate.
Beginning with the class of 2011, Michigan "students will complete a course of study delivered via the intranet/Internet; or students will complete 20 hours of structured, sustained, integrated, online
experiences accessed via a telecommunications network; or students must have the online learning experience incorporated into each course of the required curriculum," according to the state standards.
In New Mexico, students are required to earn one credit in an advanced placement course, an honors course, a dual credit course or a distance learning course.
Alabama students may satisfy the online requirement for graduation by taking an an online course, or participating in an "online experiences incorporated into courses used to fulfill requirements for
Idaho went through a heated debate before the state Board of Education approved rules that require two online courses for graduation. This is less than the eight classes state schools chief Tom Luna
originally wanted, but he saw the two class requirement as a victory. The Idaho requirement will start with the class of 2016.
I think this requirement "goes a long ways toward our responsibility as a board and as a state to assure that our students have the ability and the necessary skills that they will need when they graduate
from high school," Luna said.
The push for adding online courses as a graduation requirement continues. In Indiana, for example, state schools chief Tony Bennett would like to see a statewide requirement such as the ones in Idaho, Utah
"If we don't address this issue of technology for all children, I think we're going to be setting up the next achievement gap," Bennett told the Indianapolis Star.
In the meantime, many individual Indiana school districts are instituting their own online graduation requirements.
According to the Indianapolis Star, many Central Indiana districts already are moving quickly toward online courses, viewing them as a cost-saving alternative to hiring additional teachers — especially
during summer school.
"It's not just a fad or even a trend, it's just the future. It's the next phase of what education is going to be." Kevin Caress, superintendent of Clark-Pleasant Schools in Johnson County, told the Star.
First Reports Show Enrollment in Online Classes Growing--Fast
Wed, 14 Sep 2011 22:53:00 +0000
Something's happening here. What it is, well, it may be quite clear.
As the first unofficial enrollment numbers from the start of the school year are reported, online learning is a big winner.
The numbers are rolling in from Louisiana, where several thousands applied for a few hundred spots in the state's first online charter school, to Florida, where new state laws have boosted virtual school enrollment.
In Nebraska, which launched a state-led virtual school this fall, students from 25 high schools signed up for courses ranging from Advanced Placement Physics to U.S. History.
In Washington, D.C. an online high school sponsored by George Washington University grew to 76 students from 16 who enrolled in the spring.
And Silicon Valley welcomed 200 students to "Silicon Valley Flex," a hybrid high school. Its sister school, "San Francisco Flex" opened in fall 2010 with 100 students.
"Where states and districts allow online learning, it's growing much faster than any of us anticipated," said Liberating Learning blog contributor Tom Vander Ark while he moderated a panel on at the "Reinventing Public Education" conference at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Competition is playing an important part in the growth of online learning. In Pennsylvania, for example, dozens of school districts have launched their own versions of online schools to compete with PA Cyber Charter, one of the nation's oldest and most entrenched virtual charter schools.
The local Pennsylvania school districts want their own virtual schools so that students--and the state money follows the students to PA Cyber Charter--stay in the district.
Tabatha Jackson teaches second and third grade at Arizona Connections Academy isn't surprised that an increasing number of students are gravitating to online classes.
"I think with the age we live in, most students are technologically-savvy, but our students have an advantage. The students are very comfortable with the computer and I still find myself surprised sometimes at how comfortable they are with sending emails to me," Jackson told the College Times.
A Snapshot of Online Students, Teachers
Fri, 02 Sep 2011 22:04:00 +0000
This is the third year that David B. Glick & Associates, LLC in cooperation with the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) have conducted a study about who in an online learner--and an online teacher--in the United States.
With three years under the belt, the researcher believe, "we now have sufficient numbers of programs and students represented to draw valid, if preliminary, conclusions regarding the current demographic make-up of online students and teachers.
One of the report's first conclusions is that the "online study body differs significantly in important ways from the nationwide K-12 population."
How? Significantly more girls than boys take online courses (In traditional K-12 schools settings, boys have a slight edge over girls).
Fewer Blacks, Latinos, and Asians are enrolled in online courses than in bricks-and-mortar schools. Just 2.3% of online students are "English Language Learners." This compares to the 11% of the students enrolled in K-12 schools who are classified as "English Language Learners."
Special Education students are also under-represented in online courses, according to the study. Only 6.2 of the online students were identified as "special education students" compared to 13.2% of the K-12 population.
"For those concerned about equitable access to online programs for all students, there is much here that says those concerns are well founded and need to be more deliberately addressed by programs, policies, researchers and funders," the report concluded.
The ranks of online teachers was also examined. There are more women online teachers than there are in the female-dominated ranks of traditional classroom teachers. Online teachers follow national trends when it comes to race, which means there are few non-white online teachers. This trend gave researchers pause.
"It is well documented that the lack of minority teachers in our nation's schools results in an absence of role models for students and may impact the academic achievement of minority students and the school culture, particularly in mixed race or predominately minority
schools," the report states. "However, this data begs the question as to whether online teaching could attract minority teachers in ways that elude those recruiting for face-to-face jobs."
Researchers said 143 virtual education providers--from cyber charters to state-led virtual schools--responded to the questions. This pool was double the number of respondents to the 2010 survey. Need graph here on numbers. The programs represented 485,000 full and part-time students.
The report concluded with a warning.
"For several years, thinkers such as Mark Milliron and Michael Horn have argued that online programs are in danger of replicating the problems and disparities that have plagued our bricks & mortar system. At least in terms of special student populations, the data contained in this report clearly validates that fear."
Click here for the complete report.
Lots of Virtual Firsts as Schools Start to Open
Fri, 19 Aug 2011 21:18:00 +0000
More students than anyone anticipated applied for spots in the first virtual charter and virtual schools in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
School districts from Pennsylvania to Colorado are launching their own versions of cyber charter and virtual schools.
And in Florida, which boasts the nation's largest pool of students who take online classes, a new day has dawned as school districts experiment with a variety of digital education models.
Wayne Goforth, director of the Union County school system in Tennessee told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he isn't surprised at the interest in virtual schools.
"I can see it appealing to people who have done home-schooling. I can see it being interesting to people paying a lot for private school and for families who, for some reason, are not wanting to send their child to the public schools in their community," he said.
In Pennsylvania, money is the reason many school districts are launching their own cyber charter schools. These schools will be in direct competition with the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.
That's not an accident.
Pennsylvania school districts formerly received 30% reimbursement on the costs to send students to cyber schools. However, in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's budget, that reimbursement was cut, and schools face an increased financial burden.
Since online classes are proving to be popular in Pennsylvania, and school district faced increasing costs as more students within their boundaries took advantage of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School option, the districts decided to create their own virtual school programs.
Rural school districts see virtual education as a way to offer their students educational opportunities that once were only found in big city schools. In Trinidad, Colo., for instance, superintendent Manuel Rodriguez believes online courses will be the next frontier
for public education. This year will be the first that Trinidad has had its own online school,
"I think technology is the key to the future and we need to do everything we can to ensure we’re providing it for our kids, and providing them with the opportunities, and giving them access to that,” Rodriguez told the Trinidad Times.
More high school students will need to successfully complete at least one online course in order to graduate. Florida, Idaho and the Memphis public schools are just a few featuring new graduation requirements.
Thanks to a new state law, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), the nation's largest state-led virtual school, will be able to offer online classes to elementary students. Previously, FLVS only offered courses to high school students.
And school districts in Florida, heck parents in Flordia who don't want to work with school districts, can contract directly with companies that provide K-12 online courses.
"It's very clear that online learning has found its time and place," Hall Davidson, director of global learning initiatives at Discovery Education told T.H.E. Journal. "And it lies at the heart of some serious competition between traditional brick-and-mortar schools and entrepreneurial proprietary schools that are taking advantage of the charter movement. "
Making New Virtual Education Laws Work
Wed, 29 Jun 2011 21:51:00 +0000
School administrators are finding out that the devil truly is in the details as they spend the summer putting together action plans that will implement new virtual education policies.
"Online learning is still in its infancy. … It's the Wild West right now. Everybody's trying to figure it out," Brian Bridges, director of the California Learning Resource Network, a "one-stop" resource for online learning information, told a gathering of teachers in California's Central Valley.
Take a look at what's happening in Utah, where new virtual education laws will expand online learning opportunities in just a few weeks when the 2011-2012 school year begins. Part of the laws states that Utah high schoolers can take up to two courses online instead of in a classroom. If a student decides to take online classes, he or she has to to drop an equal number of classes they would have enrolled in at a bricks-and-mortar school.
When asked why students couldn't take online classes in addition to their full high school schedule, state Sen. Howard Stephenson, who sponsored Utah's online school expansion bill, said that would mean the state would be paying twice for the same student's education.
"To just take more courses adds an expense to taxpayers," he told the Deseret News.
Stephenson also said he knows of parents who have been told that if their child takes an online class, the parent will be responsible for picking them up and taking them off campus during the class period they dropped.
"I guess we didn't anticipate this kind of, what appears to be, hostility," Stephenson said.
But Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education said she believes the logistical challenges shouldn't outweigh the importance of students getting to choose which classes are important to them.
Other Utah school districts agree with Clark. "We're excited about the opportunity it allows us to give students some real options," Hollie Pettersson, the secondary director of evidence-based learning with the Canyons School District, told KSL.com. Pettersson added
that the district plans to move ahead with an online program called "Canyons Virtual High School."
Over in Idaho, school administrators are also facing challenges in implementing recently-approved laws that expand K-12 virtual education.
For Sugar-Salem School District Superintendent Alan Dunn, adjusting to Idaho's K-12 reforms meant innovating. And fast.
According to the Magic Valley Times-News, Dunn spearheaded a consortium with neighboring school districts to offer distance learning programs on the Idaho Education Network.
Dunn expected that would satisfy the online education requirement for high school graduation. But during the first meeting of an Idaho Technology Task Force subcommittee Dunn learned that classes delivered over IEN will not satisfy the new mandate if the teacher works at the student's school.
"That wasn't our understanding as we went through this," Dunn, whose district has about 1,500 students, told the Magic Valley Times-News. "That may change the things we were planning to do."
This, and other implementation details, are no joke to front-line school administrators. They want to put the online education laws into action, however, they also want to protect their district's state funding, enrollment and teachers.
Meanwhile, Idaho edtech task force members like Cliff Green, regional vice president for the for-profit Insight Schools, see opportunity.
"It's been hard to come into a state and compete with subsidy," Green told the Magic Valley Times News, referring to Idaho Digital Learning Academy, the state-led virtual school. "Now,
whoever has the best product will win."
Idaho Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, a co-sponsor of the reforms and says that it takes time to make change
"We passed a law and now comes the hard part of making it all work," Goedde said. "It's going to take awhile to get our arms around the issues."
Virtual Education and the Homeschool Movement
Thu, 16 Jun 2011 19:01:00 +0000
Let's face it, homeschooling has gone mainstream. Now, public school districts want a piece of the homeschool market and they are using virtual education to get a foothold.
The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) estimates there were more than 2 million children being homeschooled in the United States in 2010. In other words, 1 in every 25 school kids are now homeschooled.
“The growth of the modern homeschool movement has been remarkable,” Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defence Association, told LifesiteNews.com. “Just 30 years ago there were only an estimated 20,000 homeschooled children.”
Despite dire predictions, homeschooled students have turned out to be exemplary students. They are finalists in national academic competitions. They have gain admittance--and graduated from--some of the nation's most prestigious universities.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of College admission found that “homeschool students possess higher ACT scores, grade point averages (GPAs) and graduation rates when compared to traditionally-educated students.”
The study also found “that students who are homeschooled earn higher first-year and fourth-year GPAs when controlling for demographic, pre-college, engagement, and first-term academic factors.”
The intersection of virtual education and homeschooled students has gained the attention of public school districts. This has led a growing number of districts to customize their online offerings as a way to attract students who have abandoned regular schools in order to be educated at home.
Make no mistake, the public schools are trying to lure back homeschooled student because state money will come back with them.
Capturing lost state money is one reason Virginia's Chesterfield County school district wanted to be one of the first in its state to create a virtual charter school that would offer online courses to district students, students in other parts of the state, and in particular, to homeschooled students.
David Myers, assistant superintendent for finance in Chesterfield, told the Richmond Times Dispatch, Chesterfield was working under the assumption that it would be able to capture the state funding along with the student, so if a Richmond student enrolled in the Chesterfield program, then the Chesterfield County, not Richmond, would get the funding.
Other traditional school districts are also jumping on the online bandwagon. For example, beginning this fall the Minidoka County School District in Idaho will offer a virtual education program geared to K-8 home-schooled students.
"There is an age-old rivalry between school districts and home school, which is just silly," District Superintendent Scott Rogers told the Magic Valley Times-News. "We want to embrace the fact that sometimes children need a different type of classroom. We can’t be afraid of that."
Rogers said there are at least 100 to 200 home-schooled children in 3,961-student district.
The Mehlville School District in the St. Louis, Mo., area is another public school district trying to attract homeschooled students with online classes.
In August, it will open its virtual education program to home-schools students.
Mark Catalana, director of alternate programs for the Mehlville School District, told the Suburban Journals of St. Louis, the district's online program has benefits for home-schooled students: a standard high school diploma and the ability to join in school activities such as clubs and social events.
But some St. Louis home-school advocates are wary.
Cathy Mullins member of St. Louis Homeschooling Activities, Resources and Encouragement (S.H.A.R.E), a support group for homeschoolers Mullins admits many homeschoolers will scoff at the idea of joining their local district.
"Some people look at popular culture and want to grab their kids and run the other way," she told the Suburban Journals. "A lot are afraid because it means more government control."
Mullins' caution about embracing traditional-school sponsored online curriculum for homeschoolers was echoed recently at at the 28th annual Virginia Homeschool Convention in Richmond.
About 24,682 students were home-schooled in the 2010-11 school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education. If, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch, students excused from the public schools on religious grounds are added, the total reaches 31,900 students.
Virginia's 2011 expansion of approved virtual school providers might be perceived as a boon to homeschoolers. But some parents at the 28th annual Virginia Homeschool Convention, felt otherwise. They had many reasons to be skeptical of all providers of online courses.
Some want Scripture-focused lessons for their children; others have a child learning at a different pace or in a different way than their peers; others want a more controlled social environment. By designing their own curriculum, parents can teach to their child's individual needs, setting their own pace and schedule to follow.
"Home schooling is parent-controlled education. Virtual schools are government-controlled education," Yvonne Bunn, director of home-school support for the Home Educators Association of Virginia, told the Times Dispatch. "It's government school in your home."
Even though some parents feel that way, virtual education supporters say they are making in-roads in the homeschool market. In Colorado, data indicates that as the number of online students grows, the number of home-schooled students is dropping.
According the the Denver Post, some parents and educators see a link between the two.
The number of Colorado students enrolled in online programs jumped from 9,222 in 2007 to 15,249 in 2010, a 65% increase.
During the same period, the number of home-school students fell by 6%, according to the Colorado Department of Education data compiled by the Colorado Children's Campaign.
Mullins of the St. Louis group S.H.A.R.E. acknowledged that some homeschoolers could find the school district-sponsored online programs useful. "It's something I'm going to keep in mind for people who might benefit."
Virtual Education Spring
Tue, 31 May 2011 17:53:00 +0000
This year the eyes of the world have focused on Northern Africa and the Middle East where a series of popular uprisings toppled long-time political leaders and their policies. The movement was quickly dubbed, "Arab spring."
Well, attention must be paid to the U.S. education policy and political community where people in dozens of states have dismantled long-held education policies to create a "virtual education spring."
This wave of change has occurred from Alabama, where legislators changed laws that forced virtual charter schools to operate from physical buildings, to West Virginia, where the state board of education adopted Digital Learning Now's "10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning" as part of the state's "Global21" learning plan.
Utah approved several bills that will expand online learning opportunities in the state. Florida, already a leader in the virtual education movement, created an open marketplace where parents and educators can all have equal access to for-profit, not-profit and public providers of online courses.
"It's pretty unprecedented, when you take a look at how much education legislation has been enacted around the country," Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor of political science and education at Drew University in Madison, N.J. told Education Week as he described a wide range of education reforms, including ones centered on virtual education, approved by state legislatures so far this year.
To be sure, not every virtual education measure has moved smoothly through state legislatures. Oregon virtual education proponents are in a bitter battle with the state's largest teachers union over a union-back bill virtual education proponents say will create a huge bureaucracy that will crush, and eventually kill, virtual charter schools in the state.
The Georgia State Supreme Court handed down a ruling that struck down a law empowering the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to approve and finance charter schools, even if local school districts declined to back the charter. Virtual school supporters fear this will close schools already in operation and eliminate the possibility of creation new virtual and charter schools. Virtual and charter community supporters have asked the Georgia court to review its decision.
In Idaho, the fight over launching edtech-center reforms became blood sport. After a bare-knuckled fight, three bills were signed into law which shifted money from teachers salaries to tech upgrades for schools, created a merit-pay program for teachers, and eliminated most teacher collective bargaining rights. Opponents launched a petition drive to overturn the changes through a referendum. The opponents also targeted Idaho schools chief Tom Luna, who led the reform movement, for recall.
Reform opponents claim they have enough signatures to place a referendum on the reforms on the ballot.
Even with these challenges, virtual education and incorporating digital tools to create instruction innovation, is gaining momentum.
For example, in Pennsylvania, a growing number of school districts are preparing to open cyber charter schools as a way to attract students who left their local districts to attend statewide cyber charters. The local districts are doing this to bring state money that underwrites the cyber charter students back to their home districts.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals recently issued a call for greater access to and wider acceptance of technologies such as social networks, smart phones, and mobile devices in classrooms.
According to T.H.E. Journal, the principals group executive director Gerald. N. Tirozzi, indicated that blocking these technologies takes education in the wrong direction.
"It's becoming increasingly clear that simply blocking such technologies does students a disservice," Tirozzi said. "An education that fails to account for the responsible use of mobile devices and social networks prepares students for our past, but not for their future."