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Monday, July 24, 2006

Starting A Virtual School

Annette forwarded this message to me this morning and it got me thinking about a couple of things.

PLANNING FOR THE "VIRTUAL SCHOOL" PROGRAM

The "virtual school" bill (Senate Bill 912) was signed June 12 by Governor Blunt; it becomes effective August 28. This legislation requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish a public virtual school, serving K-12, by July 1, 2007. Many states have worked to establish some form of Internet-based virtual education program. Missouri will build on the best established and developing models that we can identify nationally.

We have employed Dr. Curt Fuchs to serve as director of the virtual school program. He is a veteran school administrator who served, until recently, as director of technology and media for the Columbia Public Schools. One of his first initiatives will be to help create a Web page to provide information about the virtual school planning process. Requests for provider proposals (invitations for bids) will be developed this fall and issued in January 2007. Content providers selected through the IFB process will be in place and ready for the July 1, 2007, start-up date.

In theory, any school-age child (K-12) who lives in Missouri will be eligible to participate in the program. Participation, however, will be limited by the amount of funds annually appropriated by the legislature.

There was strong legislative support for this measure, and there is strong interest in this program across the state – and in other states. We are receiving almost daily contacts from individuals and organizations who are involved with other virtual programs. We will keep you informed about the preparations for launching Missouri's virtual school.

Sincerely,
D. Kent King
I found this interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is an example of how many of the public virtual schools begin these days. You will note that they have indicated that there will be a bid process for content providers and I imagine during the first five years or so many of the courses offered through the Missouri Virtual School will come from the likes of APEX, Class.com, FLVS, Aventa Learning, and others. I don't know if they will have any home grown (i.e., developed themselves) courses their first year - as there is no indication in the message above that there will be a call for developers - I would imagine that after the first year or two they'll start to develop their own content as well, which is typical of most virtual schools.

Another thing that I find interesting is that this is a virtual school and not a virtual high school (which is becoming more common, see Wireless Technology Spawns Chicago's First K-8 Online Public School from Online Learning Update ), and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I have often contended that well designed virtual schooling opportunities should be designed in such a way that students who aren't necessarily independent, self-motivated, self-directed students can take advantage of them. But I also often wonder if there an age when the level required for these characteristics cannot be bridged by technology and mediated communication?

Any thoughts about or comments on either of these issues:
  • a typical start-up of a virtual school; or
  • whether or not virtual schooling is or can be appropriate for younger students?

Tags: , , ,

11 Comments:

Blogger Kate Logan said...

We started up a virtual high school and we have content provided by class.com, hosted by eCollege. We are beginning our third school year and are really just starting to create our own content across all the subject areas. I also assume that Missouri will do the same.

One advantage that Missouri has over other states with the legislation is that funding issues will be resolved. We fight w/ our Dept of Ed over seat time vs. content mastery, Carnegie units vs. course completion rates, etc... Hopefully Missouri will miss out on some of those headaches.

I agree that K-8 virtual school is a grey area. We have been approached by other schools in the state who want to start in the K-8 arena. I’m not convinced that it can work. My guess is that it is a ploy to catch some of the homeschool audience. I know that homeschool is a hotly debated topic on this blog, but that is just my perspective from Wyoming. I don't know what the reasons are behind the K-8 component in Missouri, but I'll be shocked if they can pull it off within the first couple of years. K-8 virtual is the hemorrhaging edge of technology and education theory. Can it be done...probably. Can it be done with high quality and accountability...not right away. Is there data behind that decision making (read NCLB)...absolutely not. I wonder how they will fund the K-8 component without any federal dollars?

Just some thoughts.

2:20 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Yeah...

The problems that you are facing in terms of funding are similar to what most virtual schools are facing (with the exception of Florida).

I'm torn on the K-8 stuff - I know that Illinois are piloting a middle school project in a small term basis to try out some things... I believe the CDLI is thinking in those terms, but that may be two or three years off. My gut tells me the lower you go in grade level, the greater the need for synchronous instruction. But that is just my gut.

MKB

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is homeschooling hotly debated here? :) Personally, I would just like to distance myself as a homeschool parent from some of the stuff that is co-opting the term homeschooling in order to make some corporation wealthier.

If you are going to look at how virtual schools get started especially MO, then this is a must read:
http://www.homeedmag.com/blogs/newscomm/?p=297

I'm not convinced that public schools in MO were the real backers of the legislation to bring virtual schools to that state.

Here's a link to an article called:
Who's donating, and what do they want?

http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/news/115372984577640.xml&coll=2

I have another article that talks about David Brennan of White Hat making political donations in Florida.

~Annette

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made a tiny link so it should work better:

Here's a link to an article called:
Who's donating, and what do they want?
http://tinyurl.com/m5fud

~Annette

4:29 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Annette,

I'm not as concerned about that and maybe it is because of the Georgia experience. When Georgia set up its virtual high school, the legislature (one with a lot of those scarey, right-wing, conversative, fundamentalist legislators) made it free to any public school student, private school student, or homeschool student in the State of Georgia. The GVHS is still a public school, so by doing this they are bringing some students (even if it only for a class a day) back into the pubic system - which I don't see as a bad thing, particularly at the high school level.

MKB

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,
You aren't concerned with how cyber charters come about? Paid employees from another state come in and lobby for cyber charters. Political contributions are used to buy favors for for-profit cyber charter owners. This doesn't concern you and cause you to think that it is and will cause problems for the type of virtual school that you are advocating for?
It could be that MO wouldn't have passed a virtual school bill if it weren't for a for-profit company's involvement.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Missouri lawmakers vote to create virtual school
DAVID A. LIEB
Associated Press
http://tinyurl.com/rqeqo

"I just have this sinking feeling about this bill," said Harris, D-Columbia, who voted against it. "There's something here that makes me think that this is the type of bill that in five or six years we may regret having voted for. I think there may be an interest by some of these out-of-state curriculum providers."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~Annette

10:25 AM  
Blogger MKB said...

No, that isn't what I said. I said that given the experience in Georgia where a state-wide public virtual school was created (in a similar political climate), I am not as concerned with the case in Missouri because of the fact that it is a public virtual school.

If it had come about in a way similar to how the doors were opened in Ohi and Pennsylvania to allow for the massive proliferation of cyber charter schools, then I would be concerned.

Regardless of who funded or lobbied for the measure, the fact that they chose to create a public virtual school is the main issue for me, as opposed to simply creating a regime that allowed for the creation of virtual and/or cyber opportunities - because that would have opened a bigger door that I have rallied against in other entries here.

MKB

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The door has been opened for cyber charters to come in. That's what Connections is. It isn't any different than K12Inc.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Missouri_Cyber_Support

I'll go and look at Georgia to see if I can get a better handle on what you are saying.
~Annette

12:37 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Annette,

Regardless of what a Yahoo group might indicate, the way this was presented (at least from what I quoted in the original entry) is that it is a public virtual school. Connections Academy is a private company operating a cyber school. There would have to be other legislation allowing for the operation of charter schools in Missouri that either came before or will come after the legislation creating the public, state-run virtual school.

Now do state-run virtual schools use content from other, even commercial providers - all the time. The only one that I know of who doesn't is Florida (and actually they act as one of these third-party vendors in many other states).

But based on the information that I posted, the state isn't creating a cyber school and it didn't change the legislation to allow Connections Academy to operate a state-wide cyber school. It created a public, state-wide virtual school.

MKB

1:08 PM  
Blogger Kate Logan said...

Sorry this post is so long after the original conversation, but what is the argument here? I"ve read all of your comments but I still don't understand the bone of contention. Maybe I didn't do enough pre-reading.

11:30 AM  
Blogger MKB said...

Kate,

I believe that the issue was whether special interests who supported the creation of a state-wide, state-funded, public virtual school could use the legislation as an opening to begin to create cyber charters in a state where they are currently unable to operate and whether the specific legislation in Missouri would allow such a thing to happen.

MKB

10:59 PM  

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