October 21, 2002
New report cites value of virtual education
By Jennifer McNulty
The University of California College Prep Initiative (UCCP) released
a report October 17 on the rapidly growing phenomenon of state-funded
virtual education in the United States.
"California, and the University
of California in particular, needs to provide equal access to
high-quality education to increase the opportunity for students
to attend college."
executive director of UCCP and vice chancellor for student affairs
The report, entitled The California Virtual School Report: A National
Survey of Virtual Education Practice and Policy with Recommendations
for the State of California, was commissioned in order to study
the patterns, costs, and effectiveness of statewide virtual programs
in meeting educational needs that are not being met by traditional means.
UCCP, a University of California program that provides advanced placement
(AP) and high school honors courses to underserved populations in California,
funded the report to examine how the experience of virtual programs
in other states could be applied to the unique educational issues facing
"California, and the University of California in particular, needs
to provide equal access to high-quality education to increase the opportunity
for students to attend college," said Francisco Hernandez, executive
director of UCCP and vice chancellor for student affairs at UCSC. "While
we have been reaching underserved populations in the state with AP and
honors courses, we realized that this is only the tip of the iceberg."
Julius Zelmanowitz, vice provost in the UC Office of the President
and cochair of the UCCP Systemwide Advisory Committee, noted that, "There
are certain benefits that can come from working on courseware development
in conjunction with the higher education institutions that will be recipients
of todays high school students. Resources in difficult areas such
as mathematics can be designed so that teachers can have access to high-quality
educational and professional development materials that can be customized
to meet local needs."
The report outlines the ways in which certain states have centralized
the creation and distribution of online courses, teacher training, and
curricular resources. While many schools operate one or two online courses,
the virtual education programs in the key states provide high school
students with educational opportunities both in the classroom and as
stand-alone courses to be taken at home. Florida and Michigan, which
have the most robust offerings, have been developing these services
to provide a new educational delivery mechanism that will be part of
the educational infrastructure.
"We have two reasons for doing this," said Nancy Davis, executive
director of the Michigan Virtual High School, which has invested $18
million in its statewide program. "First, we can provide what some
schools cannot, namely advanced placement courses and remedial programs,
and second, to make sure that Michigans students can compete in
the workplace where, increasingly, lifelong learning will be a necessity."
The report details how states and large school districts are now embarking
on the delivery of their curriculum online. Alan Arkatov, the eLearning
consultant for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the
nation's second largest school system, is confronting problems that
can only be addressed by online systems.
"With more than 750,000 K-12 students, 200,000 adult students,
and the need to build out an additional 77,000 seats in just the next
five years, LAUSD must supplement its current academic on-the-ground
offerings with a rich online curriculum," Arkatov said. "The
districts fundamental commitment to access is one that not only
will include online AP courses, but areas such as remediation, special
education, and professional development. In addition to highlighting
the current opportunities available to students and teachers in California
and around the country, this report provides an essential road map on
where we go from here."
The Clovis Unified School District in Californias Central Valley
provides its teachers with courses purchased from the Florida Virtual
School. Report coauthor Rob Darrow, the Clovis online learning specialist,
conducted a statewide survey in California and found a receptivity at
all levels from students through administrators.
"What we found," Darrow explained, "is that students,
educators, and parents believe that California should be moving toward
some type of collaborative state virtual school program that includes
input from local districts, while also providing state content and technology
standards for online courses. High-quality online resources can help
to meet the challenges of teacher shortages and give students in all
parts of the state greater access to a greater array of courses."
As this alternate form of delivery becomes more mainstream, other issues
present themselves. Many schools receive their funding based on average
daily attendance (ADA) of their student populations. "If a student
takes three courses outside of the classroom, this has to be accounted
for," said Hernandez. A bill passed in the California Legislature
(AB 885) and recently signed into law by Governor Gray Davis recognizes
the importance of online learning and now allows school districts to
collect ADA for up to two online courses, paving the way for funding
of virtual education programs in California.
The report, which offers a blueprint for California, concludes that,
"Virtual education is here to stay" and, just as electronic
technologies have done in banking, health care, and consumer services,
such programs will provide the ability to reach students and teachers
with consistent, individualized, and high-quality education to augment
the classroom and for online delivery.
"We will continue to see mixed cases evolving," said the
report's coauthor Gordon Freedman, of Knowledge Base, LLC, a California
consulting firm. "Some students might take math online to help
them with a deficiency while taking history and English in the classroom.
In other cases, for a variety of reasons, some students may receive
the bulk of their education at home."
The report was produced by Knowledge Base, LLC, of Monterey, California,
and the Clovis School District, which won the award as a result of a
request-for-proposal process issued by UCCP. The four-month effort involved
a number of surveys, on-site visits, student, teacher, and parent focus
groups, and the efforts of a total of 10 authors and researchers. The
report can be downloaded from the UCCP web
site. For further information, please e-mail Francisco
Hernandez or call (831) 459-2474.
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