Virtual Schools Update
Sustainability of Online Schooling at Risk
Research shows that virtual schools are growing significantly, but so are their challenges stemming from infrastructure and data management. A new report researched and written by Evergreen Consulting Associates, a network of professionals working in online education and environmental protection, says that online learning programs are growing by at least 25 percent each year, and 42 states have significant online learning programs, but factors are emerging that put their efficacy into question.
The report, "Keeping Pace with K12 Online Learning," says the lack of transparency and data in many states, and questionable practices from a few programs, "may threaten the sustainability of online learning for all."
The report includes other key findings:
Some programs have attracted attention from policymakers due to questions about finances, quality and ways in which the programs adhere to existing laws and regulations.
Data to evaluate online programs against face-to-face education are lacking, in part because online student populations are at most only 1 to 2 percent of the total.
Florida Virtual School, the largest online program in the country in terms of unique students, had more than 100,000 course registrations and more than 50,000 students in 2006-2007.
Data to compare online learning programs to one another are insuffi cient, because of a lack of common measures in calculating student achievement.
The full report is available on the Web site of the North American Council for Online Learning (www.nacol.org).
Ruling Threatens Virtual Schools
In a ruling that could jeopardize the future of virtual schools throughout the state of Wisconsin, an appellate court recently determined that an online school in the Northern Ozaukee School District violates state laws and should be denied millions of dollars in open enrollment funds.
The ruling said that the school, the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, "operates out of students' homes with parents as the primary educators," and violates statutes regarding teacher certification and open enrollment.
Th e district has appealed the ruling to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Some educators fear the decision could produce a ripple eff ect for similar online schools in the state.
"All these realities are crashing into each other," says Mickey Revenaugh, VP for state relations at Connections Academy, a national virtual school. "People are asking, 'What makes sense in a 21st century environment?'"
Odysseyware, a Web-based learning environment that offers media-rich core curricula and electives for grades 3-12, is widening its capabilities to allow teachers and educators to create their own course content. Founded in 2001, the company is used in more than 800 schools across the country in a variety of ways, including credit recovery, enrichment, mediation, and alternative education. "In terms of our growth every year we've pretty much doubled the number of schools our curriculum is implemented in," says Christopher Toppings, chief of staff for OdysseyWare, "so we're growing extremely rapidly."
Streamlining the Online Experience
Agilix, a company founded in 2001 that delivers e-learning solutions in the education market, is taking on course content in a big way. Its GoCourse Learning System, a mobile e-learning platform that allows content to be downloaded locally from the Web, is specially designed for the rising number of students taking courses online and those who are technologically disadvantaged at home, says Jim Ericson, vice president of marketing. The system will feature future enhancements in these areas.
Experts say one of the biggest challenges facing virtual schools is efficiently delivering increasingly rich course content.
"If students download a video and have it locally, they can watch it whenever they want and it's a less expensive solution for the school," says Ericson.
Company execs add that last month Agilix secured a contract with a leading U.S. university to conduct a pilot program using GoCourse to deliver content to students and institutions worldwide.