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Online courses level the playing field for rural high schools | Education Forward
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NEWS

Online courses level the playing field for rural high schools


By Susan Meeker.
January 17, 2012 | Willows Journal


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When Chad Zoller of Princeton graduates from high school in June, he will have one more advanced placement class under his belt than his brother Justin had when he graduated in 2009.

It’s not because Zoller is smarter or more dedicated to his studies than his older brother, who is now in college, but that he has opportunities few students anywhere had in the past.

Zoller is one of several Princeton High School students who share the same classroom and teacher at the exact same time as four or five other students taking a completely different advanced placement math subjects.

The two subjects — calculus and trigonometry — are online courses accessed through the computer.

“It’s different,” said Zoller, while doing a calculus assignment online. “It’s definitely going to help me get ahead for college.”

Online courses are taking schools by storm, viewed as an important part of the future in education circles.

“This has become a national and international movement,” said Susan Domenighini, principal of a charter school in Glenn County. “Online courses give all students the same opportunity to receive a quality education.”

With advances in “cyber education,” combined with the proper funding and training for teachers, students in Colusa may soon be taking an AP French class along with students in Willows, and students in Arbuckle may soon take the same music theory or Latin courses as students in Orland.

More importantly, students in small, rural schools, like Princeton, Maxwell, Williams and Elk Creek, may soon have unrestricted access to the same online learning opportunities, digital devices and materials as the finest private and public school students in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

“For smaller schools, online learning offers us a great deal of flexibility,” said Princeton math teacher Matt Harvey. “It’s more efficient and puts students on a level playing field when it comes to preparing for college.”

Harvey, who teaches the two advanced placement math subjects at the same time, said he doesn’t see cyber high schools as a replacement for good educators, but a way to blend online and face-to-face learning so students get the best instruction possible.

Technology-savvy Ashley McMartin, a junior at Princeton High, said having some online classes — which provide materials, tutoring and tests — works to her advantage.

“I don’t have to carry the textbooks, so it takes about 50 pounds off my backpack,” McMartin joked. “It’s nice that everything is right at my fingertips.”

McMartin, who plans to become a veterinarian, takes her online calculus class seriously, and knows that students working at their own speed require a great deal of self-motivation.

“You don’t want to be cramming at the last minute to finish the course,” she said. “So it can hurt us or help us to work at our own pace.”

McMartin said she is most grateful that blended-education allows her to still have a teacher available to help her through the bumps and hurdles of a difficult subject.

“It’s nice when you need to ask questions,” McMartin said. “Mr. Harvey can put into words what the computer doesn’t understand.”

To keep pace with online learning, states are now striving to put legislation in place to help school puts online policy and practice into place, and make sure they have the funding to move forward.

In fact, when California voters head to the polls this fall, they will likely be asked to vote on an initiative intended to break down the barriers between students and the educational options available to them — in the classroom and online.

The measure, called the California Student Bill of Rights Act, is intended to give all students, regardless of the district in which they live, unrestricted access to online learning opportunities.

Such legislation could be especially helpful to students in rural communities, where districts lack the courses required for entrance to the state’s universities and colleges, said Shirley Diaz, assistant superintendent of educational services at the Glenn County Office of Education.

The proposal not only authorizes school districts to contract with public and private providers to deliver online courses taught by credentialed teachers, it provides the funding to do it based on average daily attendance.

“This would not only give students more choice, but it would give credit to the districts that provide the courses,” Diaz said.

The initiative is similar to Assembly Bill 802 (Blumenfield and Cook) which would also allow school districts, county offices of education and charter schools that offer online education to claim funding on the basis of a pupil’s attendance in an online course.

Unlike A.B. 802, however, the California Student Bill of Rights Act, if approved by the voters, not only provides students access to courses required for admission to state universities, it establishes the California Diploma, which demonstrates completion of courses required for University of California and California State University admission.

“This part of the measure has really piqued our interest,” said Glenn County Superintendent of Schools Tracey Quarne, who added he and other local educators plan to investigate that portion of the measure before offering further opinion.

Although online courses are offered in many districts, the Bill of Rights Act would lift some Education Code constraints, making online courses more accessible to students everywhere, Quarne said.

And the fiscal impacts are staggering.

According to the state legislative analyst and director of finance, long-term savings to the local school districts are potentially in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, if the schools experience the efficiencies they expect, and have widespread participation in the use of online courses.

The savings would be offset somewhat by administrative costs to implement the measure, officials said, including local costs for developing online curriculum, contracting with online providers and ensuring students access to online courses.

There will also be associated state costs for changing the existing school payment system and issuing California Diplomas to qualifying students.

Proponents of the measure, which entered circulation last week, must collect 504,760 signatures of registered voters by June 1 to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Read this article at its source here:http://www.willows-journal.com/news/high…


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