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Iowa View: Virtual schools raise concerns

Date Posted: March 14th, 2012 | Author: vgmforbin | Category: Uncategorized | Comments: No Comments

I am probably gaining a reputation as someone who opposes online learning and the opportunities it presents students. I have been critical of both Connections Academy and K12 Inc., for-profit companies that have partnered with Iowa school districts.

Let me set the record straight: I am not opposed to online learning. In fact, I am a strong proponent of it. Where the divergence in opinion happens is the concept of 100 percent online learning, without the need for a student to ever set foot in a classroom, and the aggressive and deceptive recruiting practices that have proliferated in recent weeks.

I support online learning, but not as the sole delivery model for instruction.

In the Hudson Community School District, we use an online program for students for a variety of strategic reasons. It is a wonderful tool for credit recovery. Students who may be short of credits for graduation have taken courses using an online program. It also serves as a tool to use when we have specific courses, including AP classes, that may not be otherwise available in a small school district.

The key difference is that these courses are offered in a blended format under the direction of our own faculty locally. In the online environment we use, we are able to hold our students accountable by closely monitoring their progress and having face-to-face interactions with these youngsters on a daily basis.

My concerns are with an environment that is entirely virtual.

I confess that when news of these new online schools initially broke, I didn’t pay too much attention. My belief has always been that local school districts should be permitted to do what they believe is in the best interest of their students, provided it is within the confines of state law. While I don’t agree with the practice, I am only the superintendent at the Hudson Community School District. Nowhere else.

My real concern began one day on my way to the office when I heard a radio spot for Connections Academy, reminding listeners that open enrollment would end March 1. The spot went on to tell how to apply. Upon reaching my office, I did a Google search for Connections Academy, where I was directed to download and fill out the open enrollment application from the Department of Education and then mail it to Columbia, Md. That is when I first cried “foul.” We have a longstanding tradition in Iowa to refrain from recruiting open enrollment students.

What would state lawmakers say if I used tax dollars to buy advertising spots to attract students from other districts to open enroll in my district? I object to this blatant “poaching” of students.

Educationally speaking, the data does not seem to suggest that virtual academies are more successful than traditional classrooms. In fact, independent research indicates that many of these schools fall short of meeting federal education requirements.

I wonder about the impact these academies will have on social skills and interactions. Might a student choose a virtual academy for unhealthy reasons, such as avoidance of peers or teachers, an inability to work through social problems, fear of public speaking, or a myriad of other reasons? Employers want people who can work collaboratively on projects and effectively communicate their ideas.

In Iowa, local school districts do not have authority unless it is specifically given in state statute. These districts would argue that the authority for such academies does exist in Chapter 256 of the Code of Iowa. That statute does state that online learning is permissible if it is not delivered as an exclusive means of instruction. However, one of the reasons given that this is not exclusive online instruction was because students will receive a jump rope for physical education.

Also, students are offered a plethora of extra-curricular activities, such as football, baseball, and music. But the school district does not provide transportation to practices or games. If you live across the state and open enroll in the virtual academy, that is going to be one serious commute for football practice or choir.

Original Source: Des Moines Register – http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012303110026

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