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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Who Are We Trying To Serve?

Okay, so this came across my inbox via the ASCD SmartBrief service:

Proposed Mississippi curriculum to include online component Mississippi schools chief Hank Bounds will ask the Legislature to fund a $20 million revamped curriculum that includes self-paced, online courses for students desiring to graduate early or make up work. The proposed program revamps computer classes for students in grades 7 though 9 and offers training in seven career paths for 10th- through 12-graders. eSchool News (free registration) (5/22)
Not that remarkable I suppose, given that in Michigan they are still wrestling with how to ensure that all high school graduates have completed at least one online course (see Virtual High School). But is this part of a bigger trend?

Follow me here for a moment, last week I asked the question Who Are Virtual Schools Most Needed For? Which I happen to think is a very worthwhile question, particularly in light of this attitude that seems to be out there that if we have the ability to do it, they we should do it (e.g., we have the ability to offer online courses so let's make everyone take one because it will be good for them or let's spend millions of dollars trying to get rid of these kids earlier).

Now don't for a minute think that I am against providing opportunity, but I wonder in a time when resources are scare if we could do a better job of targetting that funding to provide opportunities to those who really need it, not simply to anyone simply because we can.

I mean when I read blog entries such as Lawmaker hopes to expand state's 'virtual schools' plan, First online high school in state planned for fall, MRDP Media Release, and Online high school to become state's first to offer diplomas - Associated Press, I have to be honest and say that I do have some Concerns about virtual high schools (granted this piece isn't entirely fitting to this entry, but does raise some interesting issue, some ofwhich I plan to return to in a future post).

I suppose thisall goes back to a question similar to the one I asked last week, what are we trying to achieve with virtual schooling? Or maybe a better way to ask it is who are we trying to serve? If there is more than one answer to that second question, how do we prioritize the groups that we have listed, because in the end we only have enough funding to cater to some of them while others will be left out in the cold.

Tags: , , , , ,

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's face it, Mike. There are school districts that start virtual schools as a way to try and stem the flow of students that are leaving their public school for either homeschooling or for a non-district virtual school. These school districts want a piece of the action because they can benefit financially. Maybe the question should be asked is it wrong for public schools to get in on the competition when their motivation is one of financial?
Annette

8:22 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Annette,

The interesting thing is that in the virtual schools that I am familiar with, and based on the literature that I have read (both academic and media stuff), stemming the flow isn't something I see much of, at least not being mentioned by anything other than homeschooling-related publications.

The most common reasons I see, expanding the curriculum to underserved students, providing a more challenging curriculum to the high ability students, or serving the non-traditional students (i.e., athletes, at-risk students, students required to travel a great deal, hospital bound students, etc.).

My question is trying to get at the issue of with limited funds, if we have to pick and chose who should get these opportunities first (cause there may not be enough money to address the needs of a second group of students)?

MKB

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sources aren't of the hsing type for this. Apparently cyber schools can be financially beneficial and not a drain if it is bringing students back to their district thru the cyber school. Perhaps, you are looking it as a matter of limited funds, while there are districts who are viewing cyber schools as money -makers? The success of Florida Virtual School could give us a particular example to discuss.

http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/may/25/online_enrollment_soars/
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Notable quote: "If we don’t act soon on this, it’s another avenue for
students to bail out on us,” Bezek said.

http://www.fergusfallsjournal.com/articles/2006/05/25/news/news06.txt

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kulp explained that Boyertown could develop its own quality cyber school and help the district financially.
http://www.pottstownmercury.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=16683181&BRD=1674&PAG=461&dept_id=18041&rfi=6

Annette

2:17 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Annette,

Florida is an odd case, as it is the only one of its kind in the United States. The Florida Virtual School is a school district and receives its funding in the same way any other school district receives funding.

As for cyberschools, from my reading they are really only an issue in a few select states (while more than these few have charter school laws, only a few have real issues with cyberschools).

MKB

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,
You know that there are about 22 states that have cyber schools? It depends on which issues you mean and who it is that has those issues.
What would prevent a state from following in FLVS footsteps? What is really all that different from ARVS than FLVS? The fact that ARVS operates under a charter? How much of a difference is that really when charter schools are public schools when you are looking at virtual schools? Are you interested in only certain virtual schools?

http://tinyurl.com/jnupv

School or scam? - Home is where the school is
But should the public pay for it? And how much is too much?
Jennifer Barnett Reed
Updated: 2/13/2004
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
http://tinyurl.com/z22uc
Arkansas Times Wed, 22 Feb 2006

7:59 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Annette,

I knew it was about half, but in most of those 22 states there are very few issues with cyberschools because of the way in which the original charter school legislation that allowed for their creation was written. The only ones where I see real issues developing are in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

As for your questions about the FLVS - "What is really all that different from ARVS than FLVS? The fact that ARVS operates under a charter?" Yes, the fact that ARVS operates under a charter and the FLVS operates as a public school district are two very different things.

MKB

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that your list is way too small. For example, I didn't see Wisconsin on it for one.
http://www2.jsonline.com/news/state/jan04/198246.asp

Michigan seems to offer the same type of program in many respects as FLVS and it doesn't appear to be chartered.
(snip)
Eligible students include:

* Gifted and talented students
* Special needs students
* Students who need to "make-up" credit
* Public and non-public school students
* Home-schoolers
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
But maybe I don't understand what it is you see as issues compared to what the issues are that are being written about in articles. I'm also wondering if you are only interested in discussing only a certain segment of virtual schooling? Are you interested in virtual education as a whole or a particular aspect?

What do you think of Wisconsin Connections Academy (WCA), an instrumentality of the Appleton Area School District?

http://dpi.wi.gov/imt/viwis.html
snip:
Target population: The potential learning community to be served by the proposed online charter school encompasses students with insufficient credits for graduation; those interested in studying specialized courses which cannot be offered in their traditional schools; those seeking accelerated study through high school courses at advanced levels; those experiencing scheduling conflicts with home or employment responsibilities; those who have been expelled or are at risk of severe disciplinary action; as well as those who are being home-schooled and ......(end of snip)

10:11 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Annette,

Florida is unique in the fact that it is a public school district and is funding like any other public school district. Michigan, like most other state-wide virtual schools, is based upon a tuition model where students (or in some cases schools) pay the cost of taking the course.

As for issues, what I'm referring to are instances where there is a tension between the public school system (or at least the media that support them) and cyberschools. I didn't include Wisconsin on that list of states where there are issues because if you look at the link that you posted, you'll see that the State's own Department of Public Instruction is the one publicizing the potential opportunities offered by the Wisconsin Connections Academy.

In your final questions, you asked: "I'm also wondering if you are only interested in discussing only a certain segment of virtual schooling? Are you interested in virtual education as a whole or a particular aspect?"

I'm interested in getting virtual schooling to a point where it is a viable supplement for any student who wants the opportunity to take a course through a virtual school. Having said that, with limited funds available (as we have today), I would want the first group that was included in that category of "any student" to be rural school students. But down the road, I want a system that isn't just for the academically able - as so many virtual school opportunities are currently focused.

MKB

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,
I'm not following your line of reasoning. Sometimes the issues will fall on lines between democrats and republicans, and sometimes between teacher unions and advocates for school choice. Is tension between a teacher's union and the state department of education any less significant?

http://www.wxow.com/news/publish/articles/article_4148.shtml
Mar 18, 2006

**snip**
The largest teachers union in Wisconsin has a big problem with those new virtual schools.
**snip**
In a lawsuit, the union says parents are playing too big of a teaching role in the virtual world.

~Annette

9:02 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Annette,

This issue is a road that has already been walked upon and decided in most other jurisdictions. Just because Wisconsin happens to be the latest player to the game, doesn'tmean that this is an issue that is new, that presents something different to consider, etc.. This was one of the reasons I pointed to Pennsylvania and Ohio as examples, because the issues they are dealing with have yet to be resolved in other jurisdictions.

I'm not saying that people won't fight, but if the decision has already been made somewhere else, do we really expect a different outcome this time around?

MKB

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree that the issues have been resolved in Wisconsin. I could get that same perception as you do from reading some websites in Ohio, but it would be false. There isn't much difference in some of the same facets of these issues in the two states. I think the underlying issues that are the sources of tension will have serious consequences for virtual schools and it ability to be successful. It is quite feasible, imo, for virtual schools to be caught in the political crossfire.

10:46 PM  

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