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Home About Us Battleground Spotlight Resources SPOTLIGHT An in-depth look at a single issue confronting the efforts to establish distance learning as an educational tool of choice. 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.
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"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 happen. "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 cant 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
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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
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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." Digital Learning Now: Online Education's Impact Player Wed, 04 May 2011 19:44:00 +0000 In less than a year, Digital Learning Now has become an important catalyst in the virtual education policy arena. The goal of Digital Learning Now, found in August 2010 as the Digital Learning Council, is to provide a road map for lawmakers and policy shapers to follow when developing legislation and polices that encourage the growth of online learning. The group's narrow focused has worked. It's impact can be seen in statehouses, where legislators quote Digital Learning Now's "10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning" and incorporate many of the elements into legislation. Public policy analysts have used DLN's elements as the core to build reports and studies on virtual education. Laws expanding online learning opportunities approved this year in Utah and Idaho include parts of DLN's elements. What's more, when it looked as if these laws were likely not to get out of the legislative bodies, DLN leaders and supporters launched successful efforts to get the bills approved on the governors' desks for signing. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Florida legislators wisely changed the name of a floundering bill from CS/CS/HB 7197 to the "Digital Learning Now Act." The name change, some say helped change the bill's fortunes because it got the needed votes for passage in the Florida House of Representatives. Simply put, DLN's "10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning" has become the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval when it comes to legislation aimed at expanding K-12 online education opportunities. Why has Digital Learning Now been so effective so quickly?

The face, really the faces, of the organization are two former governors that, when their names are linked, say bipartisan. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, immediately get door open when they talk to the current crop of governors and state lawmakers. In addition, the 100 original signatories of the Digital Learning Council policy proclamation represent a broad spectrum of influential leaders in politics, education and business. The narrow focus on education reform policy at the state level. The guiding principles make no bones about it, DLN's 10 elements "are directed toward state laws and policies." They are written in a way the make it easy for legislators and their staff to blend DLN's elements into a legislative mold. The harmonic convergence of public acceptance of tech advancement, an economic downturn that left states looking for new funding solutions and good, old-fashion political influence (often provided by Bush and Wise.) DLN says it best, "Growing budget deficits and shrinking tax revenue present a tremendous challenge for the nation's governors and lawmakers ... However, what might appear to be an obstacle to reform can also present a great opportunity for innovation."

Bush, Wise and their DLN support team have spent their first year holding forums, getting op-eds published, backing online petitions, getting legislation written, approved and signed into law and, when necessary, using political muscle, to reach their goals. To be sure, everyone is not enamored with DLN. "There seems to be missing an appreciation for the value of the human and personal community which has always been a central crux of learning. Shouldnt there be recommendations that states and districts support on-line learners with opportunities and
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programs for athletics, for performing arts, for in-person mentoring, coaching, and counseling?" Jonathan Martin wrote in 2010 on the 21K12 blog. "Dont we have to strive for a balance where we harness the best of the digital tools with the best of traditional practices, in which caring and inspirational adults can elicit the best efforts and warmly provide the best counsel?" he asked. Next up for DLN is a national report card. In October, the organization plans to participate in a national summit on education reform in San Francisco. One of the components of the meeting will be a report card that grades each state on how it is nurturing digital learning based on the 10 elements.

Digital Textbooks at the Tipping Point? Mon, 07 Feb 2011 21:32:00 +0000 No money for new textbooks. That's the reason so many states and school districts are seriously looking to to use digital textbooks--and e-readers--in more elementary, middle and high school classrooms. If the talk turns into action, the widespread introduction of digital textbooks would reduce costs facing now cash-strapped states and school districts. It also would force schools to embrace digital media as a regular classroom learning tool. I think the idea of digital media replacing traditional textbooks is definitely part of the future. Theres definitely movement in that direction," says Jeff Mao, learning technology director at the Maine Department of Education, is vice chairman of the State Educational Technology Directors Association board of directors. Mao told keepmecurrent.com there are times when books are better, but with the outpouring of new e-readers which realistically mimic the pages of a book and more powerful handheld devices like netbooks, Mao sees general acceptance of digital textbooks as a logical next step. From Georgia, to Missouri and Wisconsin to Texas, Florida, and California, the debate over digital textbooks and e-readers has been pushed to the forefront by the need to find new, lower-cost ways to underwrite public education. In addition, how 21st century students read, write and communicate has changed and educators say the means to reach these students must change, too. In Maine's Sanford schools, textbooks are still in the classrooms, but students pick them up less often as technology takes over. Assistant Superintendent David Theoharides told keepmecurrent.com that in many cases, students have been using computers as a supplement to their textbooks. For additional help with their algebra homework, for instance, students may be able to visit an algebra website sponsored by the textbook companies, Theoharides said. Some of these websites even have an online chalkboard with a teachers voice for guidance. Though technology hasnt replaced textbooks yet, these online resources may one day help schools save on pricey textbooks that can cost as much as $30 to $40 each. Ive seen a trend around the schools where we send textbooks home less and less, said Theoharides. If its a way to save some funds and still give students these resources that would be great. In West Virgina, a $271 million plan to move classrooms from print textbooks to digital texts has been met with skepticism, especially from classroom teachers who say that the goal of equal access to technology is not within the reach of many students, let alone school campuses. "I am a social studies teacher and I am avidly against this," freshman West Virgina Delegate Brian Savilla told the Dominion Post. Many families can't afford school lunch, he said, so how are they going to afford Internet hookups in their homes? And in his classroom with 26 "computers on wheels," he's never had all of them working at once. Not to mention the need for batteries and power outlets to charge the machines, plus power cords strewn across classroom floors. "There's all these little holes in the plan that don't add up," he said. Backers of digital textbooks say that hurdles can, and will be, crossed. Once digital textbooks are more widely available, the sooner teachers can start capturing the imaginations of a new generation. Maine's learning technology director Jeff Mao uses the example of the Battle of Gettysburg to illustrate the difference between traditional and digital textbooks. A paper textbook, he says, is limited in its presentation. There may be a few pictures, a few charts, a few perspectives on the battle. But a digital device could offer that plus embedded links offering curious students an endless supply of Internet sites addressing facets of the battle. It would be the teachers or curriculum coordinators job to corral the infinite segues into a package presentable on the laptop. Here in Maine, we would want to have a special focus on Joshua Chamberlains role in the battle, Mao told keepmecurrent.com.
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A textbook might give you a paragraph if youre lucky, but online content would offer much more, perhaps a map of where Chamberlain was positioned with elevation, where the guns were, where the soldiers were arrayed, perhaps re-creations of the battle in audio, video, interactive live data, blogs. The content could be endless. Converting to digital content is something that could not only save money but have learning benefits, as well, Mao said. Will Class Size Requirements End Virtually? Thu, 20 Jan 2011 22:31:00 +0000 It has been the holy grail of education for decades: Small is beautiful. Small classes, that is. This all may be changing. Government budget constraints, the decline in the power of public employee unions, and the growing move to online instruction are the reasons. Last year, according to Stateline.org, 11 states relaxed class-size requirements either through legislative action or administratively. Texas plans to allow more students in each classroom and Idahos state superintendent proposed boosting average class sizes as a means to which would eliminate 770 teaching jobs save $514 million over five years. In 2009, in California, school officials deferred funding for a program that sent state money to school districts to shrink classes in kindergarten through third grade. The state relaxed penalties to districts that did not comply with the reductions. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut another $550 million from the class-size reduction program, Stateline.org reported. In the 2010 election, a Florida ballot measure asked voters if they wanted to repeal a 2002 constitutional amendment setting classsize caps. The measure won 55 percent of the statewide vote, but that was short of the 60 percent required to overturn a constitutional amendment. Meeting the restrictions put many Florida districts in a corner. The law fines school districts up to $3,000 for each additional student in classes that exceed the mandated maximum. Palm Beach County already owes the state $16.6 million in fines. Florida state school officials are considering reducing or eliminating the fines, and lawmakers are looking for a legislative solution. Some districts have threatened to sue over the fines. To meet class size requirements, many Florida schools are assigning students to online classes, which do not have a size limit. A New York Times article lamented that 7,000 Miami-Dade students were in classes "without teachers." This infuriated people closer to the situation. "In fact, kids taking a Florida Virtual School class do have a state-certified teacher overseeing their work and conversing with them on a regular basis," a columnist with the Orlando Sentinel wrote. " Students can call their teachers between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. during the week. Virtual school teachers regularly visit the schools that offer the e-labs mentioned in the article. None of this was in the story because it contradicts the story line." "I certainly read and respect the NY Times. But this was lazy and slipshod reporting," the columnist added. Many state officials say that loosening statewide class size restrictions gives local districts more leeway to manage difficult budget situations. Youre untying the hands of local districts, says Clara Keith, Georgias associate superintendent for school improvement. Some local school administrators, however, see that as a way to move difficult decisions out of state jurisdiction and onto the individual school districts. Still, backers of larger class sizes,are finding some support from Washington. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a speech in November, noted that many high-performing school systems in Asia have larger classes than the United States and urged school districts to consider raising class sizes, at least in the higher grades. In secondary schools, he said, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size. Most teacher unions favor small classes. But their reasons are quickly becoming overshadowed by mounting state and local budget deficits. The more the unions dig their heels in on this issue, the more they seem to be out of touch with a recession ravaged public. "The growing discrepancy between conditions in the public and private sectors has eroded much of the sympathy public-sector workers might once have enjoyed," according to an article in The Economist titled, Public-sector unions have had a good few decades. Has their luck run out? The technological advances that allow students to take courses at their own pace, supervised by online and in-classroom teachers is a force in the move toward loosening class size rules. According to a report by Ambient Insight Research, "the disproportionately high growth of self-paced e-learning in preK-12 is being driven in large part by four factors: the "rapid growth of virtual schools, the dramatic increase in online students, the recession, and state budget cuts," the last of which is causing schools to shift budgets from programs like classroom-based summer credit recovery courses to self-paced courses." The market for online course will only grow, the report adds. David Nagel, a blogger with the Transforming Education Through Technology Journal points out that Ambient "researchers noted that overall numbers of preK-12 students attending physical
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classrooms only will decline (by 4.2 percent) by 2015, while the population begins to migrate to virtual schools, online charter schools, and online supplemental instruction. More than 10 million students will participate in some amount of online supplemental instruction by 2015, up from 2010 levels of 2.9 million, for a compound annual growth rate of 28 percent. More dramatic growth will be seen in online charter schools and virtual schools." The number of students in a class is an emotional issue. Parents, as well as teachers, are some of the strongest proponents for small classes. It was a parent/teacher coalition that stopped the 2010 Florida ballot measure from being approved. That said, budgetary and technological times have changed and this may lead to class size changes. For example, the Texas comptrollers proposal would amend the law to say that elementary classes must average 22 students across a district, rather than using 22 students as a hard cap for every classroom. Texas state Senator Florence Shapiro, who chairs the Senate education committee says the change would give local school officials more flexibility. The number 22-to-one was an arbitrary number, according to Shapiro. It was really put in place at a time when we thought smaller class sizes were the most important element in the classroom. Today, I believe the most important element in the classroom is the teacher. The Debate Over Online Advanced Placement Courses Tue, 11 Jan 2011 21:10:00 +0000 It's a no brainer. That's why offering Advanced Placement classes as an online alternative is such an easy decision for most education policymakers. AP courses are geared for students many educators believe can adapt quickly to virtual education. For the most part these are highly-motivated, college-bound, high school students. They know that if they score high enough on the end-of-the-year AP test, they can earn college credits before setting foot on a college campus. What's more, AP courses, which are supervised by the non-profit College Board, have become so commonplace on the transcripts of college applicants, that one admissions officer said he wonders what's wrong with a student if he or she does not have AP credits as part of their high school grade report. Virtual education is helping to grow the popularity of AP courses to such an extent that now the impact and quality of online AP courses is being examined. This is happening at the same time that the College Board is revamping the criteria for some AP courses. According to Education Week, the College Board is re-examining how AP materials are presented online and whether online methods measure up to face-to-face instruction. College Board and other educators, realize there is no turning back from the AP online alternative. Nearly 18 percent of the 17,000 high schools that offer AP courses offer at least one of them as an online option, according to the College Board. Simply put, offering online AP courses has becoming part of the warp and woof of contemporary education. "Though many teachers and AP experts insist the best way to dig into an advanced course is in a small classroom setting with face-to-face interactions, even traditionalists acknowledge that the online offerings are an important opportunity for students who previously did not have access to such classes," according to Education Week. In fact, the College Board itself has embraced virtual education. It offers suggestions on online texts for AP courses; posts resources for online research; and offers online professional development seminars for AP teachers. As the College Board grapples with the movement of AP courses to the digital world, it is also making major curriculum and testing changes. In February, the College Board is expected to unveil changes to AP Biology and AP History courses. According to the New York Times, the board "will slash the amount of material students need to know for the tests and provide, for the first time, a curriculum framework for what courses should look like ... The goal is to clear students minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking." Encouraging analytic thinking is what AP classes are supposed to do, and supporters of online AP courses say that's exactly what the digital versions are doing. "Advanced placement online classes are tough, and students need discipline if they want to do well, John Kolassa, principal of Minnesota's Schoolcraft High School told the Grand Rapids Press. 5 Virtual Education Trends to Watch for in 2011 Sun, 02 Jan 2011 23:29:00 +0000
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Building on 2010's accomplishments, 2011 should be a banner year in the virtual education movement. Here are five trends to watch for this year. 1. State legislation. There will be lots of action at the state level. Newly-minted governors who campaigned on expanding online education will have to make good on their promises. Enrollment caps that have limited expansion of virtual schools may be lifted. Budget problems promise to be both positive and negative for virtual education. Positive because tight budgets may spur more innovation. Negative because politicians and educators may be less willing to experiment. 2. The rise of school districts. Virtual education will go local as more school districts become willing to try online classes. There are many reasons for this change of heart. Local school superintendents see online courses as a way to bring money--and students-to their districts. State-led virtual education initiatives will continue to be important, but in a different way as local districts try to muscle their ways to the front of the virtual education movement. 3. Professional development. The growth in training classroom teachers in how to teach virtually began in 2010, but will hit full stride this year. It just makes sense that good teachers will want to know how to use every tool possible to be effective. 4. Federal education money will be directed to ed tech. The first seeds of federal education money being tied to improved classroom technology goals were planted in late 2010. Watch for the growth in 2011. 5. Bandwagon jumping. More politicians, educators, parents, public intellectuals, school choice advocates and others are going to join the virtual education movement. In 2011, it is going to be cool to be a virtual education advocate. 2010: Five Important Trends in Virtual Education Movement Mon, 20 Dec 2010 19:16:00 +0000 Here are five important virtual education trends--not all of them positive--that occurred in 2010. What these issues show is the educational and cultural shift taking place in the United States thanks to technology. Next week, check Spotlight for the five virtual education issues that are poised to be significant in 2011. 1. Virtual Education goes mainstream. Online learning has played a niche role in the education reform movement. That is no longer the case. From an issue of the New York Times magazine totally devoted to online learning and the issues surround it, to the FCC chairman using his bully pulpit to call for more online education, to two former governors launching the Digital Learning Council, a national advocacy group, attention was paid to virtual education. According to Keeping Pace, the annual review of virtual education, 48 of 50 states--and the District of Columbia--offer some kind of online learning experience for K-12 students. There is still a long way to go for wider acceptance, but 2010 was a turning point. 2. States tackle funding issues tied to virtual schools. From Oklahoma to Georgia, from Oregon to Texas, per pupil funding of online students in public schools was a red-hot issue. Many legislators saw virtual education as a low-cost means of solving budget problems. This has led many states to low-ball money devoted to virtual schools. There are cost-savings associated with online education, however, low per pupil allocations led school operators in Georgia and Oklahoma to decide not to open alreadyapproved virtual schools.This issue is not going away and the discussion and will increase in intensity in 2011. 3. Mobile devices as educational game-changers. Smartphones. Tablets. Pocket computers such as the iPod Touch. All used for entertainment. All can be used for educational purposes, if school officials change the rules--and their views--governing students' on campus use of this new technology. There are already apps for dictionaries, for flashcards that drill fractions and multiplication tables and much more. Many schools, however, have rules that ban smartphones and iPods. Attitudes are changing. This year was the first that the impact of these device on learning and engagement was widely recognized by educators. Increased acceptance will certainly broaden the "any time, any where" education movement. 4. Seat time vs. mastery of subject debate. If there was once issue in 2010 that showed how education is moving away from the 19th century industrial model to the 21st century information technology model, it was the seat time vs. mastery of subject debate. "Seat time" has long been a mainstay for high school graduation. Basically, it means that to get credits toward a diploma, the student has to spend a certain amount of time seated in a classroom. Online learning allows students to work at their own pace. Smart kids can grasp the basic quickly and move on to more advanced work. Other students can take longer to gain mastery over the same material. Credit for the course is based on mastery of the subject instead of time on task. Customization for each learner so each learner can be successful. If technology can lead to doing away with seat-time rules , the toppling of other antiquated rules will follow. 5. Enrollment caps. Many states that wanted to test online education set enrollment caps for the first wave of schools. This was a way to appease teachers unions, skeptical school administrators and others. What most states found was that enrollment and interest in online education exceeded expectations and the enrollment caps hindered growth of online education. This year was the beginning of the peel-back of enrollment caps. As more states look to online courses as money-savers and as a means to expand curriculum offerings, enrollment caps will be lifted. Takeaways from the Digital Learning Council's '10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning'
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Thu, 02 Dec 2010 21:58:00 +0000 It's aspirational. It's detailed. And it just may work. The Digital Learning Council, the fledgling virtual education policy advocacy group launched earlier this year with former governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Bob Wise of West Virginia at the helm, flexed a mighty muscle when it unveiled its muchanticipated report "Digital Learning Now!" The heart of the report is the "10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning." The report is written in plain language with very little pedagogical jargon (there's even a glossary of terms so you can tell the difference between a "state-led online initiatives" and a "full-time online schools").This will be a help to the legislators and policymakers who really [ital] should read this 20-page report. In an interview with CNN, Bush said it is time to "put digital learning at the core of education rather that at the periphery. Wise stressed that now is the cost effectiveness of virtual education. "Digital learning can also be the catalyst for transformational change in education. It is a tool that can address a myriad of challenges faced by schools, community leaders, and policymakers," according to a statement the former governors signed. Each of the 10 Elements in the report comes with actions steps that can be used as a sensible guide for lawmakers and policymakers. For example, in the section on student access to technology, action steps include making sure the "state does not restrict access to high quality digital content with policies such as class size ratios and caps on enrollment or budget." Another action step directs states not to restrict access to online classes "based on geography, such as school district, county or state." A section of the report provides a 10-step program for state leader who want to heighten awareness about virtual education. Bryan Setser, CEO of the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools wrote that he plans to implement five of the steps in the upcoming days, "in an attempt to inspire other principals, superintendents, state virtual school leaders, and policy makers." Funding, especially how to pay for new education initiatives during a time of national economic distress and belt-tightening, is squarely addressed throughout the Digital Learning Council's report. "To build a quality digital learning environment, states will have to spend smarter--not necessarily more," according the the report's findings. Paul Peterson, director of Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance and a member of the Hoover Institution's Koret K-12 on Education Task Force, says the Learning Council's "most important recommendation has to do with the ways state governments should fund digital learning interventions." From his perspective, Peterson adds, "Two more elements are needed: Funding should be split among providers, if they are sharing the cost burden. If a student takes a course in a district school from an online provider (say, Apple or Google or the new group Joel Klein is heading up for Rupert Murdoch), then some of the funding should go to the district school, with the balance to the designer of the curriculum. (In Florida, today, funds go either to Florida Virtual School or to the district schoolno splitting of funding is possible, an unfortunate impediment to rapid expansion of the on-line learning environment.) "And, finally, digital learning needs to be transparent and accountable. The public needs to be assured that the student is actually the one who is completing the work for the course, and the public needs to be assured that the course is not only well designed by well executedwithout imposing unnecessary restrictions that will impede innovation." Teachers, and their union reps, should make sure they read "10 Elements." The report calls for more flexibility by teachers' groups and calls on the states to "provide certification reciprocity for online instructors certified by another state," and to create "the opportunity for multi-location instruction." "Great teachers produce great students--wherever they live or learn," the report flatly states. Of course, the report did produce some naysayers. In a post on thequickanded.com, Bill Tucker wrote, "Too often the recommendations assume that quality will naturally result from regulatory relief. "Quality is an issue to must be faced. "Virtual education is in a time of rapid growth as school districts, for-profit providers, and nonprofit start-ups all move into the online learning world. But without rigorous oversight, a thousand flowers blooming will also yield a lot of weeds," Tucker wrote. What's next? Expect a full-court press from Digital Learning Council leaders and others in the virtual education movement to get many of the report's recommendations implements. The Digital Learning Council also promises to release a "Report Card on Digital Learning," in October 2011. It will provide a detail state-by-state progress report. Online Students Without Benefits Tue, 09 Nov 2010 22:07:00 +0000 The benefits referred to in the headline are extracurricular activities. One of the most voiced concerns adults have when trying to understand taking course online is that the student won't be able to participate in activities--be it sports or the glee club.
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For the most part, the adults are right and this is one of the major hurdles virtual education is trying to cross in order to gain mainstream acceptance. As the home school movement grows in maturity, it has created a network of extracurricular activities for kids who don't have a lot of other kids to pal around with. Many online school programs are trying to replicate this, but virtual school students who want to play organized high school sports or be part of the mainstream after school science clubs, drama program, or other activities that often help secure college scholarships, are often times just out of luck. Yeah, being a virtual student who can participate in extracurricular activities at the bricks-and-mortar school down the street is a big deal. School districts around the country are struggling on how to, or whether to, accommodate the virtual student. The debate in one Arizona school district is emblematic of the current debate. In Glendale, Ariz., which is just outside Phoenix, the Peoria Unified School District Board of Education unanimously voted against allowing virtual education students in its district--no matter if these students were taking virtual classes as part of district programs--to participate in district-sponsored extracurricular activities. The fall 2010 vote came after the the Arizona Interscholastic Association, a group of public and private high schools that supervises interscholastic activities, came to the district with a proposal for a one-year pilot program that would allow online charter students to play in AIA-sanctioned sports. Following the pilot, the AIA will determine whether the program should be continued. According to azcentral.com, Peoria board president Kathy Knecht said to allow participation might encourage more students to take all of their schooling at online charter schools. Knecht said she is not in favor of students going full-time at online charters because they would miss out on social activities. Another Peoria school district board member, Hal Borhauer, was interested in participating in a pilot program because he saw it as a possible recruiting school that would entice Arizona students outside of the district to attend the Peoria online charter school. However, Borhauer voted against participating in the pilot program because, according to azcentral.com, because the school district would not receive any additional state money for virtual school students who participated in after-school activities. The Peoria district could charge a fee to virtual students participating in extracurricular activities, but any state attendance funding the students attached to the students would still go to the virtual charter school, not the brick-and-mortar school activity is based. "Online charter school students should live with the consequences of their choice and that is not having the opportunity to participate in district sports," Mike Maas, the district's administrator for support services told azcentral.com. Maas also was reported as telling the board that full-time district students could get bumped out of spots on a team by online charter students. He suggested online charter schools could establish their own sports teams and activities, or the online charter students could find other alternatives, such as joining clubs or youth sports groups. That is just what is happening in many places. Minnesota is just one of the states where parochial schools are seeking cyber school students to join their students in sports leagues. School districts in other states are allowing virtual school students to join their bricks-and-mortar peers in after school programs. For example, in October 2010, the Waynesboro, Va. School Board unanimously voted to offer a virtual high school program to its students, and at the same time, directed district officials to allow students attending the virtual high school the right to participate in all of the extracurricular activities offered at the bricks-and-mortar high school. In Casper, Wyo., the Natrona County School District School Board gave the OK to virtual school students participate in afterschool programs, but there is a catch. Students attending the Natrona County School district's virtual high school can participate in the district's after school activities. Virtual school students taking online classes through another district's virtual school arent eligible to participate in extracurricular activities. In Oklahoma, it took a state law to make sure that virtual education students had equal access to extracurricular activities. A June 5, 2010 law allows any Oklahoma students to enroll in a virtual education program. The law also allows full-time online learners to participate fully in extracurricular activities with nearby public schools. First Look at How Election Results Impact Virtual Ed. Movement Wed, 03 Nov 2010 19:08:00 +0000 The virtual education movement wasn't on any ballot in this midterm election, but it was raised as a campaign issue in a number of states and by many candidates. And while the dust is still settling, here is a quick look at some of the races where virtual education played a significant role. First, let's take a look at three races for the governor's office. In Florida, Republican Rick Scott was elected. During the campaign, Scott was emphatic for his support of expanding the state's
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leadership in K-12 virtual education. Republican Susana Martinez, was elected and will become New Mexico's first Latina chief executive, is another advocate of virtual education. During the campaign, she said said she supported giving students and their families the opportunity of "school choice," which she defined that as giving families the opportunity to choose whether to attend their neighborhood public school or a charter school, vocational school, or a virtual classroom. Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry was re-elected. Perry pledged that in the 2011 legislative session he will lead the charge to expand the Virtual School Network (VSN) to create the Texas Virtual High School that will provide students who have dropped out of school an opportunity to earn a high school diploma through virtual courses, while improving access to high-quality courses for all students. The future of virtual education was also an important issue in the election of school superintendent's office. For example, in Idaho, schools chief Tom Luna was re-elected. Online schools have grown in size and number during Luna's term. His race attracted a $25,000 donation from K12 Inc., a for-profit, technology-based education company that offers curriculum and educational services. K12's donation went to an independent group called "Idahoans for Choice in Education." That group turned around and gave $25,000 to an "Arizona firm to handle broadcast advertising and production in an independent campaign supporting the re-election of" of Luna, according to the Idaho Spokesman-Review. Over in Wisconsin, Republican Sam Hagedorn, who said he got into the race for the 12 Assembly seat because he was "tired of the current office holder trying to kill the Milwaukee Voucher Program along with charter and virtual schools," was defeated by incumbent Democrat Frederick P. Kessle. Finally, one of the most important ballot measures for the virtual education movement was Florida's Amendment 8, which failed. If it had been approved, Amendment 8 would have loosened strict class-size limits. The restrictions on class size, which have been phased in since 2002, were abruptly felt this fall. School administrators faced large fines if they did not meet the requirements. One of the unexpected benefits of Amendment 8 was that it provided school officials to direct more students to online classes, which do have any size limitations. Stay tuned. As the results and trends become clearer, we will return to see how the virtual education movement fared in the November 2010 midterm election. Is Online Learning at the 'Tipping Point'? Fri, 29 Oct 2010 20:02:00 +0000 The New York Times devotes an entire issue of its Sunday magazine to virtual education and the impact technology is having on education. The Gates Foundation announces a multi-year grant program that will give millions of dollars to innovation education technology programs. Politicians running for office, from Rick Scott to the Florida gubernatorial race to Pennsylvania State Rep. Bernie O'Neill, who is running for re-election, are talking about the need to expand virtual education. Parents are telling educators that they are OK with having mobile devices as part of the their children's classroom educational toolkit. Maybe one of the reasons parents are setting the pace is that they see the educational benefits up-close, especially when they can add smartphone apps that help their children learn. Educators are changing, too. Two reports released in early 2010 show that "the U.S. is on an inexorable march toward having a computing device available for all students." So Bob Sprankle, a technology integrtaor for grades K-4 in Wells, Maine may be on the money when he writes, "I'm starting to think that the year 2010 is the year where tech integration gets its 'Tipping Point' and teachers, administrators, and parents are finally starting to embrace en masse this '21st Century Stuff' that's been talked about, blogged about, written about, podcasted about, Twittered about, etc. for the past 5 to 10 years." Virtual Education is Good for Public School Enrollment Wed, 13 Oct 2010 18:33:00 +0000 The early returns are starting to roll in and it looks as if online classes are having a positive impact on public school enrollment. In Michigan, school districts such as Saginaw report enrollment is up, thanks to virtual classes. In Kansas, it's a mixed bag. The Lawrence school district credits virtual enrollments for an increase in students. Other Kansas districts say online enrollment has had a positive, and a negative, effect on enrollment. One Florida school district said its enrollment doubled thanks to virtual classes. Ohio educators point to enrollment increases at charter schools as a positive trend. Online charter school enrollment in Wisconsin has also increase. And online courses have proved popular with Utah students.
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Even with these early reports, it is too soon to draw any conclusions, says Wendy C. Fleming, associate director of communications for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Fleming said iNACOL's most recent nationwide figures for enrollment in online classes are for the 2008-2009 school year. The data is part of the Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning annual report. "I know that an updated version will be released within the next month," Fleming told Liberating Learning in October. She added that there is no interim enrollment data currently available for the 2009-2010 or the 2010-2011 school years. Beyond the classroom computer station Tue, 05 Oct 2010 21:41:00 +0000 The iPad may be a game changer when it comes to the acceptance of digital readers in the classroom.Everybody seems to be experimenting with the digital tablet that is less than a year old. In California, the iPad is being used to test an algebra curriculum. In Kentucky, iPads are being used to get grade schoolers interested in math and science. A textbook publisher just announced that it was developing a history curriculum for the iPad. Educators don't want to be left behind. In New Jersey, a training session on how to incorporate mobile devices into lessons plans was pack with eager participants. Don't forget the school librarian. There's even an iPad app for using the library. Want to see what all the hoopla is about? Here's a video that shows different classroom uses for an iPad. This growing link between the iPad and education isn't an accident. From the day it was unveiled, iPad developers were touting its classroom benefits. The debate over the impact of the iPad--and the other mobile devices and digital tablets that are in the offing--is wide and ongoing. Educators say what they are doing is shifting from a flat, print-centric curriculum to a multidimensional digital curriculum. They add that their students have already made this shift. In the iPad app, students can drag a chart and drag little bars in the chart to change numbers," Kurt Madden, chief technology officer for Fresno Unified School District, told Converge Magazine. In the old days, students would use graph paper and a pencil to see what happened when they changed a number. Those days are kind of gone," he said. "You can just go and interact right there and see the impact. Will E-Rate Mobile Device Experiment Loosen School Rules on Cellphones? Wed, 29 Sep 2010 19:58:00 +0000 And a child shall lead them. In this case, it is a generation of children who are in the lead and may ultimately force policy changes on the use of cellphones and mobile devices on school campuses. When talking about the Federal Communications Commission's recent policy changes for its E-Rate program, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski credited student mobile phone use for inspiring the commission to create and fund a pilot program to demonstrate how mobile devices can be turned into everyday learning tools. "Early experimentation demonstrates the potential of on-the-go learning. In Onslow County, N.C., in an experimental program supported by Qualcomm, high school students were given smartphones with 24/7 Internet access. The students who were taught math on these learning devices were more likely to achieve proficiency in Algebra than classmates who had the same teacher but weren't given phones," Genachowski told a Silicon Valley audience. Gaining widespread acceptance of mobile technology as an educational tool is easier said than done. Most schools, such as Lincoln East High School in Lincoln, Neb., ban the use of mobile devices during the school and on school grounds. Educators say there are many reasons for these bans: the devices are distracting, they can be used to cheat, and there is no real educational value to them. This attitude may be changing. At Burlington High in Massachusetts, using mobile devices during the day as educational tools is encouraged. Technology "raise expectations of ourselves" and changes the way we do things, Burlington High Principal Patrick Larkin told the Boston Globe. "Its a different mindset." While adults continue debating the educational benefits of mobile devices, the children are leading. In response to a New York Times blog post asking "Can Cellphones be Educational Tools?" Students responded with a ranges of examples, everything from using calendars to organize homework assignments to using calculators to texting questions to teachers and answering online polls posted by teachers. Experiments such as the one in Onslow, N.C. and the E-Rate demonstration model may help to change the minds of educators. The tech world is hopeful and watching.
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"Hats off the the FCC for modernizing E-Rate," wrote syndicated tech columnist Larry Magid. "Now let's hope schools modernize their attitude toward the use of technology to embrace rather than try to block some of the technologies students are using in their daily lives. Different Views of Silicon Valley 'Digital Learning' Conference Wed, 22 Sep 2010 20:02:00 +0000 For one brief shining moment, Silicon Valley became the center of the virtual education movement world. At least that what it seems like after reading several of the reports from the "Back to School: Learning and Growing in a Digital Age, a one-day conference held in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Among the writers covering the meeting, there appears to be no doubt on who was the star of the day: Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski. Karen Cator, director of Education Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, was a close second. The eschool News article gives a straight-ahead, chronological accounting of the conference opening, which featured James P. Steyer, CEO and founder, Common Sense Media, one of the event's sponsors, and keynote remarks by Genachowski. Ian Quillen, who writes and blogs for Education Week's Digital Directions, focused on Genachowski's prediction that proposed changes to the FCC's E-Rate Program will approved soon. San Jose Mercury News tech columnist Mike Cassidy, wondered how a nation mired in the greatest recession since the 1930s will be able to afford the money needed for all of the gee-whiz gadgetry Genachowski and other panelists said are needed to create the 21st century classroom. MindShift's Tina Barseghian totally ignored the first panel and Genachowski. Instead, she wrote about the second discussion "Empowering Parents and Kids with Technology." Her report did catch one of the conference's undercurrents: how big tech companies--Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others--were there emphasizing how to make social media safe for school use. Maybe these firms are gearing up for the next hurdle in front of wider integration of Internet use in schools. Seat Time vs. Mastery of Subject Tue, 07 Sep 2010 20:19:00 +0000 The next big battle in the virtual education movement may be over seat time. The first skirmishes are occurring in an area where virtual education is racking up some of its biggest successes--online credit recovery programs. First, a glossary of terms. "Seat time" is a requirement that has long been a mainstay for high school graduation. Basically, it means that to get credits toward a diploma, the student has to spend a certain amount of time seated in a classroom. Typically, it is 120 hours for each high school credit. However, many online credit recovery courses--aimed at non-traditional students or students who have not passed the course in a traditional campus setting--offer students credit if he or she demonstrates mastery of the subject. How much time the student spends online doesn't matter. Recently in Georgia, parents and online educators called on the state board of education to drop seat time requirements and give online students the freedom to "move on when ready." "The notion that students should have to sit in a chair for a certain amount of time when it's only a certain aspect of algebra they don't get baffles me," says Carmita P. Vaughn, the chief strategy officer for the America's Promise Alliance, a Washington, D.C.based nonprofit partnership whose goal is to improve high school graduation rates. Kathy Christie, the chief of staff for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States told Education Week. "To work off of a proficiency base allows kids to accelerate. It allows them to make up for bad decisions. It keeps they on the prize for kids: 'These are the standards. These are the things I need to know.' " In the 2009 report, "21st Century Learning Environments," researchers argue that schools cannot continue to use seat time as a measure of academic attainment. Instead, measures of learning must include thoughtful assessments of a students ability to apply and demonstrate knowledge in complex situations. What do teachers think? In a 2009 blog post, Colorado classroom teacher Michael Mazenko probably speaks for many when he writes, "I have come to question the concept of "seat time" or "contact hours" in public education, and I am more intrigued by a
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focus on accomplishment of core competencies." Capping enrollment or innovation? Thu, 26 Aug 2010 17:12:00 +0000 Fear of the unknown. That's what appears to be the driving force behind the movement to place enrollment caps on virtual schools. School districts fear that as online courses continue to gain in popularity, more students will leave traditional campuses for virtual ones. Educators also fear that the state money that comes with the students will also leave with the students. So from Oregon, to Wyoming, from Massachusetts, to Wisconsin, enrollment caps are igniting heated debates between virtual education activists and policymakers. The situation may be changing. Legislators in Wisconsin and Oregon, for example, are studying to see if caps are still the way to go. "Maintaining the caps will only result in parents facing uncertainty about their children's education futures and ultimately prevent some parents from choosing an educational option that could truly benefit their children, James Wigderson wrote for Wisconsin's MacIver Institute. Finding a funding formula for virtual schools Wed, 18 Aug 2010 18:34:00 +0000 There is no doubt about it. How much the states are willing to spend on online schools and courses is a growing concern within the virtual education movement. Cash-strapped state legislators see virtual courses as a way to cut education expenditures. But are lawmakers trying to short-change virtual schools? In Georgia, for example, the state Charter School Commission gave its approval to two virtual charter high schools and it said the state would provide $3,500 for each student. Georgia provides $8,800 per student in a traditional high schools. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) estimates the typical online high school needs $6.500 per student in order to operate effectively. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley allowed a bill authorizing the creation of virtual public schools to become law without his signature. The reason: He was concerned how the state would fund virtual schools. Even the Florida Virtual School, which has been a leader in the virtual education movement, is grappling with how to continue growing with less state money. In a groundbreaking, 2006 study underwritten by the BellSouth Foundation, APA Consulting said that "the operating costs of online programs are about the same as the costs of operating brick-and-mortar schools." Dropouts go online to get degrees Tue, 10 Aug 2010 19:03:00 +0000 Forget about "dropout prevention" programs. Today, getting failing students back on the road to high school graduation is called "credit recovery" and a lot of the action is online. Chicago, Boston and New York are just three of the cities where educators are trying to attract at-risk students with computer labs and self-paced learning programs. In Michigan, for example, students can go to a downtown office for half a day--either morning or afternoon--use the computer lab, get counseling and ultimately get their degree. According to Education Week, online credit recovery programs are one of the fastest growing parts of the online learning industry. There are challenges to the growth of online credit recovery program. "Seat time" rules, that is state regulations that mandate that students spend a certain amount of time in class, often block the online theory that mastery of a subject is more important than time spent on task.
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This attitude is one of any that need to change for the online credit recovery movement to change. Kathy Christie, chief of staff for the Education Commission of the States, told Education Week that it is time for states to create policies that enable students to earn high school credits for mastery of skills and not just seat time. The future for online credit recovery programs is far from clear. But the demand for online credit recovery programs should grow as long as there are financial incentives and federal mandates to increase graduation rates. Summertime and the Learning is Online Tue, 03 Aug 2010 22:57:00 +0000 Experimentation is a part of summer. This year, school districts from throughout the United State used summer school as a way to test distance education. "School districts are beginning to really see the power of putting the pace of learning into students' hands," Nick Vanderpol, coordinator of summer online courses in Boulder Valley, Colo. "We're getting good feedback from kids that, 'Yeah, we want more of this.' " From cash-strapped districts in California, to Conneticut districts helping students pull up their grades to camps where kids get help bridging the digital divide, virtual learning has been put under a microscope. "The courses are equally as vigorous as being in a bricks-and-mortar classroom, but it's more flexible," according to Deidre Pilch, the Boulder Valley, Colo. assistant superintendent of school leadership for middle and high schools. Jeff Smink of the National Summer Learning Association expressed some reservations about using distance education as a substitute for summer school, but even he conceded to Fortune.com, "There's a role for virtual schools" in the summer education programs. Test driving online classes during the summer Fri, 30 Jul 2010 21:34:00 +0000 School districts throughout the United States used summer school as a way to introduce students and parents to online classes. Educators in the San Dieguito Union School District in California, for example, used summer school to out computer-based, independent-study classes that could allow students to catch up and even get ahead on credits throughout the school year.

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