School reform could boost number of students in Michigan cyber-schools

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Capital News Service
LANSING- Cyber schools could attract more Michigan students under proposed school reform legislation.
Two cyber schools in Michigan allow students to learn online and advance through coursework at their own speed. These schools provide textbooks and field trips; education is not solely online. The legislation could allow more of them.
A senate education reform package eliminates restrictions on their number and lifts the cap on the number of students that could be taught that way. An unlimited amount of cyber schools could be created as long as they pass state guidelines.
“The basic model is excellence through competition,” said Sen. Colbeck, R-Canton, the sponsor of the legislation. Removing restrictions on various education formats could improve all schools.
Cyber schools are funded much like charter schools, Colbeck said.
Critics question their effectiveness.
“This would take something that is at best untested, and throws the doors open,” said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs at the Michigan Education Association. “There is no research to show that this is a good way to improve education.”
Relationships and interpersonal communication would be compromised in an on-line learning atmosphere, said Pratt. Students will lose interactions with each other and will miss out on valuable relationships, instead relying on the Internet and computers.
There are two different types of online learning capacities, on is supplemental and the other is a full-time online learning programs, said Jamey Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of Michigan Virtual University, a supplemental online school.
“A supplemental online course provider typically works in partnership with the local school district,” Fitzpatrick said. “A student may take AP Physics online, because they don’t offer AP Physics in a traditional classroom setting in their brick and mortar environment.”
The Michigan Virtual University also caters to students in extreme situations that may not be able to attend school in a tradition classroom. This includes students dealing with illness in hospitals or participating in international athletic events, said Fitzpatrick.
“This phenomenon of kids taking their entire course schedule online is relatively new,” said Fitzpatrick. “Obviously this past school year was the first that Michigan had two cyber schools operating in the state.”
Colbeck said a broad spectrum of students benefit.
High achieving students could benefit when they are stifled by curriculum, Colbeck said. “You want to be able to break through the glass-ceiling for those individuals.”
Other students who may use cyber schools are children who have been bullied at traditional schools, Colbeck said. Cyber schools allow them to learn in a safe environment. Students with learning or physical disabilities could also benefit.
The Michigan Connections Academy is a tuition-free online public school that offers two separate programs. One is a statewide K-12 school. The other, Fusion Academy of Michigan, helps high school dropouts finish their diploma.
Connections Academy has approximately 600 students between their two schools and has 4,500 Michigan students on waiting lists.
The Michigan Virtual Charter Academy is the other cyber charter school that is offered to Michigan residents.
“We are not just doing this to tinker with public education, we currently have a problem when we have 238 high schools that are graduating kids where not one of the kids in that high school are college ready,” said Colbeck. “We have some issues, we have got to get creative.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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