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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where Does One Start?

In a lengthy discussion that Annette and I had in a previous entry, she stated:

I get the rural thing, but you show interest (even your news links) to the bigger picture of virtual and cyber charters. I also find that I have to look at the bigger more encompassing picture relative to homeschooling, virtual, cyber, and charter schooling. However, there are aspects that I try to cross off my list that it isn't within my scope or interest. On this blog, I am not currently able to make a distinction as you are able to do when it comes to certain virtual programs. I'm trying to hear you and find characteristics that I can identify that help me to see what you are interested in. For example, WA does not have a charter school law. Steilacoom district has a district-run K12, Inc. program. For all purposes, I see it as cyber charter when in fact, it is actually an alternative program. Now, Insight is in WA and in one article it appeared similar to VHS. However, it is set up so that high school students never have to attend a brick and mortar high school. Is there a line between distance learning and home-based public-funded virtual or cyber programs? It begins to look awfully blurry for me and thus my level of commenting to try to understand what you are advocating for.
So, this raises a valid issue - where does one start? I've been looking at this issues for seven or eight years now. How does someone like Annette get started? Where does she look first?

My first suggestion to anyone is Tom Clark, specifically his first two state of the state items.
  1. Clark, T. (2000). Virtual high schools: State of the states - a study of virtual high school planning and preparation in the United States. Macomb, IL: Center for the Application of Information Technologies, Western Illinois University. Retrieved on July 4, 2005 from http://projects.educ.iastate.edu/research/projects/tegivs/resources/stateofstates.pdf
  2. Clark, T. (2001). Virtual schools: Trends and issues - a study of virtual schools in the United States. San Francisco, CA: Western Regional Educational Laboratories. Retrieved on July 4, 2005 from http://www.wested.org/online_pubs/virtualschools.pdf

In Clark (2000) he defines virtual schools as "a state approved and/or regionally accredited school that offers secondary credit courses through distance learning methods that include Internet-based delivery" (p. i). Clark (2001) defines a virtual school as "an educational organization that offers K-12 courses through Internet or Web-based methods" (p. 1), and further breaks the different types of virtual schools down into these categories:

State-sanctioned, state-level. In at least 14 states, entities can be identified that have been sanctioned by state government to act as the state’s “own” virtual school. The two newest ones,
in Idaho and Maryland, have not yet been launched.

  • Example: The Florida Virtual School (previously the Florida Virtual School), begun in
    1997, has been state funded as an independent entity. It offers a full online curriculum but not a diploma. The largest virtual school in terms of enrollments, it acts as a course provider for districts in Florida and other states.

College and university-based. Some university independent study high schools and video-based continuing education programs have taken their K-12 courses online. Virtual colleges and universities make hundreds of their introductory college-level virtual courses available to upper division high school students through dual or concurrent enrollment, a phenomenon not studied in depth here.

  • Example: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Independent Study High School developed CLASS online diploma program courses with a federal grant, marketed through the for-profit CLASS.com, and is now creating its own new courses.

Consortium and regionally-based. A number of virtual school consortia have been created. Virtual school consortia are national, multi-state, state-level and regional in nature. Many regional education agencies have added virtual K-12 courses to their service menus for schools. Most virtual school consortia act as brokers for external provider opportunities or share courses among members.

  • Example: Massachusetts. The nonprofit VHS Inc. (formerly Concord VHS) is the most successful collaborative or barter model of virtual schools in existence, seeking sustainability through its broad network of participating schools.

Local education agency-based. A large number of local public schools and school districts have created their own virtual schools, mainly to serve their own supplemental or alternative education needs and to reach out to home school populations. They usually employ their own regular certified K-12 teachers, either within the regular course of instruction, or “on the side.”

  • Example: The HISD Virtual School in Houston offers middle school curricula for enrolled and home school students, and AP courses to supplement its high school offerings, while Mindquest is a Bloomington (MN) public schools program offering interdisciplinary project-based courses for persons 17 or older, for remedial work, GED Fast Track and regular high school diplomas

Virtual charter schools. State-chartered entities including public school districts, nonprofit and for-profit organizations operate public charter schools exempt from some rules and regulations. Charter school legislation has a major impact on how these schools operate.

  • Example: Basehor-Linwood Virtual Charter School in Kansas focuses on providing state funded public education opportunities for K-12 home schoolers across the state. Founded in 1998, it delivers self-developed courses in a full diploma program, using a certified district teacher in each elementary grade level and secondary content area.

Private virtual schools. Like local public schools, many private schools have developed virtual school programs. Their programs are mainly designed to provide supplemental courses and instructional materials for home schoolers. A limited number offer state-approved or regionally accredited high school diplomas, including Keystone National High School, Laurel Springs school, and WISE Internet High School.

  • Christa McAuliffe Academy in Washington state has offered Internet-based K-12 learning since 1995. Student cohorts meet weekly with their mentor in an online virtual classroom meetings, and students also undertake online mastery-based learning curricula facilitated by CMA mentors and developed by external providers. The school has regional accreditation, state approval and is seeking cross-regional approval through the Commission on International and Transregional Accreditation (CITA).

For-profit providers of curricula, content, tool and infrastructure. Many for-profit companies have played an important role in the development of virtual schools. Companies such as Apex Learning and Class.com have provided “starter” courses for many new virtual school efforts. Blackboard and eCollege have provided delivery platforms used by many virtual schools. Many companies are expanding their original focus, offering expanded curricula or comprehensive services to meet the needs of this growing market. Web development software companies such as Macromedia have provided the tools used by virtual schools to self-develop courses. (pp. i-iii)

I should note that when I see the definitions used in writing since these documents, most still use the Clark (2000) definition (including Clark himself in his chapter for the Handbook of Distance Education).

The key point for me is "state approved and/or regionally accredited." This implies that the virtual school is public and is either tied to a school, school district, or a state. This definition has been further refined in the literature to distinguish between a state approved and/or regionally accredited virtual school and the "Virtual Charter Schools" category, which has become designated as cyber schools.

Another big distinction for me is the lumping together of "for-profit providers of curricula, content, tool and infrastructure." There are two ways that this can happen, for a virual school to supplement their own offerings (as is commonly used by many state-wide virtual schools that simply haven't gotten around to developing all of their own courses yet) or simply as for profit virtual schools - K12, Inc. is an example of the latter. For profit implies a private venture and is therefore not public - a distinction that has been critical when considering publicly (i.e., state) approved virtual schooling. Private, for profit ventures provide e-learning opportunities, they are not virtual schools. For example, there were a number of e-learning vendors allowed to operate in Georgia prior to the creation of the Georgia Virtual High School, APEX for example (which I find a fairly reputable provider).

As a final caveat, these labels are only accurate in the United States. Once you leave the US, things become a lot simplier.

In any regard, to get back to the questions to aid Annette. After these two Clark documents, I would recommend two NCREL documents - both called Keeping Pace with Online Learning if I'm not mistaken. One completed in 2004 that surveyed some of the states for activity and policy relataed to virtual schooling and one completed in 2005 that surveyed all of the states.

After those four documents, I'd suggest a book by edited by Cavanaugh and a second edited by Berge and Clark. With those six items under your belt, anyone would be well versed in virtual school operations and policy, and even the lingo.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I'll be spending some time on all of this. Thank-you.

9:23 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Not a problem Annette... I got the idea from you, but I imagine that there are many in the same boat as you.


7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This link shows a virtual school that is definitely different than the parent-partnered programs. I'm seeing this in a new light now. I had lumped it in with other parent partnered programs.:

A Day at EIA

However, this next link does indicate that there can be parent-partnered programs within a program such as this in Washington state:

When I used the word alternative as it relates to Washington it is in reference to how a program like the internet academies came about legislatively in Washington. In another state, such virtual or cyber schools might have come about under a charter school law. To me this is relevant because the citizens of Washington three time voted down charter schools. However, many there are thinking that cyber charters are existing in their state anyhow, just not officially called cyber charters (ie, Steliacoom, Federal Way Internet Academy..).


8:15 AM  
Blogger MKB said...

I'll take your word on the Washington one, asI don't have time for the next little while to read a 56 page report. As for the EIA one, if you look at the role that teachers play in Stuart's education you can see that these people are more than just tutors helping to support instruction from the parents. They are providing what appears to be both asynchronous and synchronous instruction.


8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I do see that clearly. At this other one in Washington the Federal Way Internet Academy does too. One other note, Federal Way and Evergreen was not always meeting the requirement of face to face contact. WA law was changed to allow email to be sufficient for the face to face contact.:


The way online classes work varies. At the Internet Academy, they are asynchronous, meaning that students don't have to sit together at the computer at the same time.

Teachers often e-mail assignments, which can include reading, math problems or working through material presented online. Discussions are conducted in online forums, with students contributing written comments. Students e-mail homework to their teacher or, at times, mail it.

The teachers and students may never see each other face to face, and often don't know one another's ethnicity or even gender. But they report that they get to know each other well through written communication.

Students usually must complete a certain amount of work each week, and if they don't, the teacher calls their parents. (end of snip)


10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry -correction to my previous comment: were (not was) not always :)


10:13 AM  
Blogger MKB said...

Exactly Annette... And the asynchronous vs. synchronous mix essentially the main focus, as teaching can happen either way (quite well when it is done correctly).

This is the key difference between what is really virtual schooling and something that is essentially an independent study opportunity (even though it may be called cyber or virtual schooling in the media or advertized that way to the public).


11:36 AM  

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