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Education today/Steve Patchin

Virtual High Schools gaining acceptance in education systems

April 28, 2009
The Daily Mining Gazette

In Lawrence Township Schools in Indiana, students attending summer school will do it from home via their computer. Due to the districts $4.2 million budget shortfall, roughly 1,700 students will be taking make-up courses online this summer, saving the district an estimated $300,000.

The Southern Regional Education Board consists of 16 cooperating states in the southern U.S. Over 200,000 students from these states are participating in online courses, with Florida having the most online students at 77,000. Member state Alabama is using 362 part-time teachers to support its online programs.

Distance learning through these online virtual schools can take place in a classroom setting with two way video and audio, connecting it to the teacher and other participating classrooms. It can also take place via a single computer where the student downloads and completes each lesson.

Proponents of these new virtual schools argue this program will serve students that: have failed in traditional classroom settings, that need more flexible scheduling due to jobs or other commitments, are home schooled or are unable to attend a traditional school for medical reasons. With an increasing number of corporations using online instruction to keep their workforce informed, these cyber courses prepare them for this 21st century job requirement. These virtual courses also provide smaller schools access to a broader number of courses.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been very outspoken in recent weeks regarding his ideas for school reform. He supports the school voucher system, expanding the school year past 180 days and making it year-round, rewarding teachers for performance and not just longevity, and providing students more options to learn. Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, supported the creation of the now functioning Chicago Virtual School.

Students attending CVS get a printer and desktop computer on loan. They also get 70-pound boxes filled with supplies including textbooks, supplies for arts and science projects, math tools and more. Students will be required to work at their own pace throughout the course and must attend a class during the week with the teacher to follow up on their progress. Students must master 80 percent of the content before they move on.

Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flanagan, has created "Project Re-Imagine" to spear head Michigan's reform efforts. Twenty school districts in Michigan will be selected as 'demonstration districts.' The project focuses on reform in schools to increase effectiveness. Mr. Flanagan is stressing the need of "increased learning time." In the past this has meant increasing the number of school days from the current 180 days. Using the Michigan Virtual High School system, we now have a less costly instructional alternative.

Statewide, there are annually 21,000 students that never finish high school. A Columbia University Study projects that each additional student that receives their degree from high school could save society $127,000.

This cost is calculated by adding extra tax revenue, reduce public health costs, criminal justice system costs and decreased welfare payments. In Michigan alone, this societal cost equates to $2.7 billion annually. Cyber-school is yet another educational tool to achieve our objective of "No Child Left Behind."

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is Director of Youth Programs Outreach and Engagement at Michigan Technological University.



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