Classroom Technology

Online Schooling Seeing Explosive Growth in Oklahoma

By Andrewa Eger & Tulsa World — August 30, 2011 3 min read

From promotional radio and TV commercials and direct mailings aimed at parents to newspaper headlines and explosive enrollment growth, “virtual schools” and “virtual students” are this school year’s buzzwords in Oklahoma.

A Tulsa World analysis of state records shows that the number of Oklahoma public school students doing schoolwork through computer-based programs has increased nearly 400 percent over the last three years. The state’s most recent official count of virtual students for 2010-11 was 5,429.

“Everyone is trying to get their arms around the scope of what’s being offered and how fast it’s moving,” said Damon Gardenhire, the communications director for the Oklahoma Department of Education. “While this is something we think education as a whole should embrace, like anything else, it is something we should be taking a close look at in terms of quality and consistency. There is a lot of excitement and also a desire to ensure that we’re doing all the right things.”

While the programs are offered at no cost to students, most are operated by for-profit companies that contract with public school districts.

Spotlight on E-Learning

1.5 million K-12 students were enrolled in online-only or blended (virtual and face-to-face instruction) courses during the 2009-10 school year.

38 states have state-sponsored virtual schools or state-led online- learning initiatives.

27 states and the District of Columbia have full-time online schools serving students statewide.

20 states are providing both supplemental and full-time online- learning options statewide.

SOURCE: International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)

The K-8 White Oak school district serves a regular enrollment of 50 students, but boasts an additional 881 virtual students, in part because of its early foray into online education as well as its partnership with K12 Inc. The Herndon, Va.-based virtual education company promotes its programs through radio, television, online, and direct-mail advertising.

K12 offers virtual programs in more than half the states, and most are named for the state they serve. So a commercial seeking out students for the “Oklahoma Virtual Academy” is actually seeking out students in grades 1-8 to transfer into the White Oak district and students in grades 9-12 to transfer into the pre-K-12 Wynona public school system, the company’s virtual high school partner in Oklahoma. The Wynona district serves 133 students and an additional 170 virtual students.

The arrangement is similar for Oklahoma’s first virtual charter school, Epic One on One, which is preparing to open its inaugural academic year in early September. The 100-student, K-12 Graham public school system, which sponsors Epic and served an additional 150 virtual students in 2010-11, gets to keep 5 percent of state funds as an “administrative fee,” but the rest will be overseen by the charter school’s independent governing board.

Questions Raised

Questions and concerns about profit-driven motives and accountability for public dollars are the ones most commonly raised by leaders of school districts losing students to other schools’ virtual programs.

Rick Mansheim, who is employed by K12 as head of school for the Oklahoma Virtual Academy, said the company is actually losing money on the venture right now.

“There is no management fee for K12 in Oklahoma because there isn’t enough funding in Oklahoma to make that work,” he said. “The money basically all stays in Oklahoma in the form of salaries and curriculum materials, and K12 actually contributes some money. We do believe that at some point there is a future here. We believe in what we do. We view it as an investment in school choice.”

Mr. Mansheim also responded to reports of high course-dropout rates among virtual students.

For example, the state education department had White Oak’s official virtual-student count at 973 for 2010-11. Those official numbers were used to determine state funding, but Mr. Mansheim said the program ended the school year with only 837 students on the rolls.

“That’s really the norm with online,” Mr. Mansheim said. “The students sign up for it; they get into it and find out it’s not as easy as they thought. We end up losing a lot of students just because of the rigor of the program. Also, there is a lot more involvement for the parent or learning coach. We also lose a lot during state testing.”

Dusty Chancey, the superintendent of the Graham public schools, Epic One on One’s sponsor, readily admits to having concerns that online learning is simply “not for some kids.”

“Most kids can text, but not all of them can learn the core curriculum in the virtual classroom,” he said. “They need the personal interaction. A lot of these students need the opportunity to try this mode of education but soon decide it’s not for them.”

Related Tags:

Copyright ©2011, Tulsa World, Okla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2011 edition of Education Week as Virtual Education Seeing Explosive Growth in Oklahoma

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
Family Engagement for Student Success With Dr. Karen Mapp
Register for this free webinar to learn how to empower and engage families for student success featuring Karen L. Mapp.
Content provided by Panorama Education & PowerMyLearning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Director PEAK Academy Hapeville campus
Hapeville, Georgia, United States
Camelot Education
Technology Product Manager
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Camelot Education
2021-2022 Teacher (Districtwide)
Dallas, TX, US
Dallas Independent School District
[2021-2022] Founding Middle School Academic Dean
New York, NY, US
DREAM Charter School

Read Next

Classroom Technology Explainer A Clubhouse Explainer: What Educators Should Know About the New Audio Chat App
Educators are flocking to Clubhouse, an emerging invitation-only social app for iPhone users—even as social media experts warn of red flags.
10 min read
Classroom Technology Spotlight Spotlight on Instructional Tech
In this Spotlight, evaluate if current usage of ed tech is working and more.
Classroom Technology Popular Interactive Math Game Prodigy Is Target of Complaint to Federal Trade Commission
Prodigy is “aggressively” marketing to children, say 22 education and consumer protection organizations. The company disputes the claims.
3 min read
A multi-ethnic group of elementary age children are in the computer lab using laptops. A little boy is watching a video and is listening to music.
FatCamera/Getty
Classroom Technology Low-Income Children Less Likely to Experience 'Live' Contact With Teachers, Analysis Finds
Children from lower-income families are less likely to have internet access, limiting their interactions with educators.
2 min read
Image of a student working on a computer from home.
iStock/Getty