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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Focus on Wisconsin

So, most of the Virtual Schooling in the News weekly feature this week dealt with the issue of the charter cyber schools in Wisconsin (and notice how most stories called them virtual schools - see A Need for a Common Language). Anyway, here are two items posted in the NACOL forums about the issue.
Wisconsin at center of national debate over virtual schools

By RYAN J. FOLEY | Associated Press Writer

CROSS PLAINS, Wis. — Seventh grader Marcy Thompson is caught in the middle of a national policy debate that could close her school and help determine the future of online education.

Thompson is one of a growing number of students nationwide trading home schooling and public schools for virtual ones where licensed teachers oversee her progress from afar.

She is enrolled in the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, a charter school based north of Milwaukee, but spends her days 130 miles away at home studying everything from literature to algebra under her mother’s guidance and a curriculum provided by the school district.

Supporters say virtual schools are an innovative educational option that works better for some students and is a godsend for parents who prefer their children learn from home.

But critics, including the nation’s largest teacher’s union, say the so-called cyber charter schools amount to little more than home schooling at taxpayers’ expense. They complain they take away money from traditional public schools and profit companies who sell curricula to districts.

Wisconsin is at the center of the debate after an appeals court in December ordered the state to stop funding the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, the state’s largest virtual school with 800 students.

The ruling was the first of its kind in the nation and has triggered a debate among lawmakers over how the schools should be funded and regulated. The schools’ supporters are preparing to fight one plan they say would cripple them in Wisconsin.

Observers say the outcome could help shape other states’ laws, either restricting or encouraging the schools’ growth.

“People are paying attention because online learning is really a growing phenomenon,” said Susan Patrick, president of the North American Council for Online Learning, a trade association for online learning. “And for us to arbitrarily shut down online learning for students is a really dangerous precedent to set.”

Virtual schools operate in 18 states from Colorado to Pennsylvania and enroll more than 90,000 students, according to the Virginia-based council.

They generally require parents to lead daily lessons provided by the school districts that run them. Licensed teachers monitor students’ progress through e-mails, online classes and tutoring.

But students have textbooks and do not spend their whole day in front of a computer. Thompson does homework, logs online for interactive classes about once a week and is a member of a math club that meets in person.

Still, Barbara Stein of the National Education Association, the teacher’s union, objected to the use of tax dollars to support what she called a new form of home schooling.

“The issue is whether a program where you don’t have licensed educators and where you don’t have students working directly with other students should be getting fully funded as though it were a quality educational experience,” she said.

Siding with a Wisconsin teacher’s union, the appeals court ruled the school was violating Wisconsin’s open enrollment, charter school and teacher licensing laws.

The court found parents were the primary educators — a violation of a state law requiring public school teachers to be licensed. And districts who operate schools cannot receive taxpayer money for students who do not attend school within their boundaries under current law, the court said.

Its logic could be applied to schools that enroll 3,000 students statewide, potentially shutting them down. Thompson’s school, which would be the first to close, will at least finish this school year while the ruling is appealed.

Thompson, 12, cried when she heard about the ruling. Now she is writing lawmakers to urge them to keep her school open in an essay called: “Why I Love My School.” She was home schooled through second grade but has attended the Wisconsin Virtual Academy since it opened five years ago.

She and her mother say the school’s curriculum, teachers who are specialists in subjects and interaction with other students are all preferable to home schooling.

“It’s a great education option for lots and lots and lots of people and they need to save it,” Thompson said before logging on to her computer for a lesson on Newton’s law.

Lawmakers of both parties say they want to keep the schools open but so far can’t agree on the details.

Democrats who control the Senate and the education superintendent are backing a plan that would cut the schools’ funding from $6,000 per student to $3,000. That’s compared to $11,000 for public school students.

Districts and advocates say virtual schools could not survive on that little money.

But Sen. John Lehman, a Racine Democrat and former high school teacher, said his plan would only mean less profit for companies like K12 Inc., a Virginia-based company that provides curriculum to online schools in 17 states.

His critics say it’s unfair to single out the company when textbook publishers, food vendors and busing companies profit from traditional schools.

K12 Inc. vice president Jeff Kwitowski said Lehman’s proposal would make Wisconsin unique in refusing to embrace online learning.

“Cutting the funding will impact the teachers and the kids far more than it would impact our company,” Kwitowski said.

His company and Republicans who control the Assembly are backing a competing bill that would change state law to allow the schools to stay open with few, if any, changes. Hundreds of students and parents are expected to rally in support of the plan at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Rep. Brett Davis, a Republican sponsor, said Wisconsin has the chance to become a national leader in online learning.

“The bottom line is it’s time to modernize education laws in Wisconsin,” Davis said. “We have these great virtual schools that are doing well. I think we’ve become a model for the country to look at but Sen. Lehman’s proposal would send us backward.”
Second...
U.S. Court ruling threatens the future of computer-based virtual schools
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CROSS PLAINS, Wisconsin - School districts across the United States are watching a court ruling that challenges the existence of virtual schools and could determine the future of online education.

The ruling is the first of its kind in the U.S. It placed the Wisconsin Virtual Academy at the centre of a national policy debate after critics raised a key question: Do virtual schools amount to little more than home schooling at taxpayer expense?

Virtual schools operate in 18 states, says the North American Council for Online Learning, a trade association.

More than 90,000 students from kindergarten through high school are enrolled in virtual schools nationwide.

Supporters say the schools are a big help for parents who prefer their children learn from home.

Opponents, including the largest U.S. teachers' union, insist the cyber charter schools drain money away from traditional schools.

"People are paying attention because online learning is really a growing phenomenon," said Susan Patrick, president of the North American Council for Online Learning.

"And for us to arbitrarily shut down online learning for students is a really dangerous precedent to set."

Virtual schools generally require parents to lead daily lessons. Licensed teachers monitor students' progress through e-mails, online classes and tutoring.

Last month, an appeals court ordered Wisconsin to stop funding the academy, ruling that parents were the primary educators - a violation of a state law requiring public school teachers to be licensed.

And, the panel said, districts that operate virtual schools cannot receive taxpayer money for students who don't attend classes within their boundaries.

The decision could shut down other Wisconsin virtual schools, which are used by 3,000 students.

Barbara Stein of the National Education Association, the teachers' union, says she objects to the use of tax dollars to support what she called a new form of home schooling.

"The issue is whether a program where you don't have licensed educators and where you don't have students working directly with other students should be getting fully funded as though it were a quality educational experience," she said.

Politicians from both political parties say they want to keep the virtual schools open, but they have been unable to agree on the details.

Republican state Representative Brett Davis said Wisconsin has the chance to become a national leader in online learning.

"The bottom line is it's time to modernize education laws in Wisconsin," Davis said. "We have these great virtual schools that are doing well. I think we've become a model for the country to look at."
From the blogsphere, here are some items that appeared in my Bloglines about the Wisconsin issue.
And you all know how I feel about this... See:
All again for now.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Katie E. said...

I am a student at an online high school . This is my second year online. I can tell you that online learning has some very large advantages over a traditional classroom.

I have live class periods if I choose to attend or I can watch a recorded version back when its convenient to me. IF I need help with a subject I can go to a teachers LIVE office hours or email/call them.

I am able to learn when its convenient for me and in an environment that fits my learning style. The flexibility is great.

The teachers are top notch with years of experience teaching online and in a traditional brick and mortar school Many of them still teach in traditional schools as well as online.
. There is a teacher with a Masters degree in Psychology teaching the Psychology courses . Our economics teachers not only has his teaching degree, but worked on the Chicago Board of trade himself before becoming a teacher.
The instructors in this program truly care about the students and our success. They are just wonderful.

I think there is a large misconception about students who attend online High Schools. Often its thought they cant make it in a regular school or are teen moms or behavioral issues etc.. That is just not the case.

The diversity at our school is wonderful. There are teen moms or students who have not had success in other programs, but there are also Athletes who travel and need flexibility, performers, musicians , gifted and talented , former homeschoolers , and advanced students looking to earn college credits before they graduate from High school..

A program like this gives everyone the flexibility to learn at their pace and learning style , with a much larger variety of courses to choose from,
You really have that flexibility to plan school around your life and not life around you school. It is also a great way to earn a diploma over a GED for homeschooling families and those who were seeking a GED before.

One thing I really like about our program is the social opportunities. They hold online events and pep rally's, school assemblies, Movie and game nights and even Spirit Week. We have clubs, like stock club, writing club, newspaper and many more of the traditional clubs you would find at an offline High School. It's great!

They also have in person activities that students can participate in if they choose to do so. They hold things like Bowling parties , Ski days, Brewer games, Noahs Ark in the dells, etc.. They hold those events all over the state to give students in each area the chance to attend.

There is even an in person Prom every year AND of course Graduation held in Madison in the spring.

This program has changed my opinion of online learning forever. There is a place for everyone , and every skill level in an online program like this..


Our program is changing names next year to iForward, but it is the same great school, just a new name and an even better program.

They are going to work with the technical schools and they are offering career clusters as well as traditional courses.

This is going to be exciting.. I really think iForward will be the premier online school to attend in the state.

Oh and did I mention .. it's free ! They provide books, lap tops, printers .. You just log on and go to class!

Online education is a great option, I hope you consider it.

I would encourage anyone who is considering choosing the online option, to give it a try.

Of course I'd love to see you come to my school , but you can search for other programs as well.

Here is the webpage of our school if you want to check it out more.

http://iforwardwisconsin.com/

There are informational sessions online and you can send or call for information anytime. Open enrollment runs from Feb 6th until the end of April this year!

I hope to see you in the halls of my school next year!

Online school rocks!

~Katie E.

10:57 AM  
Blogger MKB said...

Katie, four years ago when this entry was published there were some real concerns about K-12 online learning, and in particularly full-time online schooling, in the State of Wisconsin. The first of which was that the laws as they were written at the time didn't allow for the online schools to be implemented in the manner that most online schools were being run.

In the past four years, we've seen a court case, legislative changes, and improvements in the way the full-time online schools deliver and support their curriculum. However, as has been seen in recent news items and in legislative audits that include states like Wisconsin, these full-time online schools are not providing students with any greater opportunity to succeed than their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts.

One of the strategies that the full-time online schools have used to illustrate their success is to bring out and display students like yourself. The problem is that most of the students that are held up as poster children for full-time online schooling would have been successful regardless of the type of educational environment they were in because they personally had the skills needed to succeed and quite often have the supportive family environment that has been found to be critical for student success. I suspect that probably describes someone like you.

Anyway, thank you for commenting and I do wish you success in this educational environment.

11:43 AM  

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