Virtual Schools Provide Supplementary Courses And Full Scale Diplomas To States, Individual Students

Virtual Schools Provide Supplementary Courses And Full Scale Diplomas To States, Individual Students – Brief Article

As schools face the troubling dilemmas of teacher shortages and equity of access to educational curriculum, states are turning to distance learning and Internet-based programs as a partial panacea.

At least eight states have developed a virtual high school in some form in the past two years, according to the State Technology Initiatives Report compiled by the Software & Information Industry Association. Meanwhile, businesses have sprouted up to meet the needs of individuals and schools in states without a virtual learning environment.

The New Mexico State Department of Education is testing distance learning initiatives as a way to provide the state’s rural school districts with equal access to a complete curriculum (EER, Dec. 22). One of its current projects is the United Star Distance Learning Consortium (USDLC) Star Schools Project. USDLC is used in two other states-California and Colorado-and is funded by a five-year U.S. Department of Education Star Schools Grant.

There are also plans to rely more on Internet-based distance learning, said Steven Sanchez, director of the state DOE’s educational technology division. The DOE is going to ask the state legislature for money to establish a virtual distance learning network and technology-based community centers to ensure there is a school-to-home link.

States Turn To Proven Virtual Schools

Some states have opted to pursue Internet-based distance learning with the help of virtual high school course developer Class.com, which has the exclusive license to develop online courses from the University of Nebraska’s Independent Study High School. Individual students enrolled with Class.com can gain a fully accredited high school diploma or supplement their home high school courses with individual classes.

Class.com launched in July 1999 and has enrolled 6,000 students from 135 countries, said Class.com president and CEO John Blair. The company also has helped Kansas and Kentucky develop state-specific online high schools and is in talks with several other states. The states are licensing Class.com’s online courses, but they are taught and administered by each state’s teachers and education departments, Blair said.

Kentucky was interested in the program to give students everywhere in the state the opportunity to take challenging advanced courses not available at their local high schools. “This is a major step forward in terms of equality of opportunity for all students, particularly those in rural areas,” said Kentucky Governor Paul Patton.

The Business Of Virtual Schools

Class.com generates its revenues primarily from student enrollment charges and fees collected for helping establish statewide virtual high schools. The company also has affinity relationships with e-commerce companies where Class.com gleans a percentage off of each sale. However, Blair said he is adamant about maintaining a wall between the academic and commercial sections of its Web pages.

Even small, private schools are trying their hands at providing virtual educations. The Central Connecticut Adventist School (South Windsor, CT) launched a virtual school of the same name (www.adventist-home-school.com) for its students and those around the world using course materials from Home Study International and the delivery platform of Convene.com (EER, July 21).

Courses began in the fall of 1999 with 18 students, and now 80 are registered for the 2000-01 school year, said principal Hans Groschel. Only three students are from the school’s home state of Connecticut with the majority nationally based and several from foreign countries. Students have live, video interaction with the instructors and participate in chat rooms and complete assignments on their own time. Enrollment fees range from $1,485 for third graders to $1,995 for twelfth graders. The non-profit school will use the fees to add to the curriculum and make improvements at the bricks-and-mortar school, Groschel said.

Who Is Taking Virtual Courses?

Kentucky and New Mexico have used distance learning as a way to bridge rural students to the same curricula that is not always available in under-populated counties, but there are many more scenarios. In Florida, 2,000 students use the state’s online high school and state education officials estimate the number could be as high as 4,000 or 5,000 students in the next school year.

A large number take advanced placement courses that are not available at their school or because they have a scheduling conflict and cannot take a course at the time it is offered, but about a third of the online high school’s students are homeschooled children. “They mostly use the service to take technical or advanced courses their parents may not be comfortable providing,” officials said (EER, Feb. 2).

School capacity problems are also a factor. Class.com received 23 enrollments for the same Spanish class in a single day because a teacher had left a school and there was no replacement to teach the class, Blair said.

Contact Information: Class.com: 402-441-3050 Convene.com: 800-758-7737 New Mexico Dept. of Education: 505-827-1270

COPYRIGHT 2000 Simba Information, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group