Archive for Monday, February 5, 2007

Virtual schools’ popularity explodes

Audit committee to study state’s 18 online programs, students

February 5, 2007


When the Lawrence Virtual School opened in 2004, it was only the fourth such program in Kansas.

At that time, 165 students had traded a traditional school setting for an electronic classroom capable of operating on the Internet 24 hours a day.

And the demand for that online alternative has exploded. Next year, enrollment is expected to top 1,000 students.

"There's no doubt in my mind it will be the biggest school in the district in three years, bigger than both high schools," said Randy Weseman, Lawrence's superintendent of schools.

Lawrence isn't alone. There are now 18 virtual school programs in Kansas.

And that growth has led the Legislature to start asking questions, such as how students are performing and who's keeping tabs on them.

A special audit team is studying the state's virtual school programs and will complete a report by April, said Barbara Hinton, legislative post auditor.

"This is a performance audit, which gets into a lot of details and will compare how the virtual schools are performing compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts," Hinton said.

She said there's also an obvious question: What kinds of controls ensure the virtual student really is a student?

"For example," Hinton said, "are there policies, (regulations) and statutes in place that would address the issue of, 'Is that really a student at the other end of that computer as opposed to the parent?'"

Lots of questions

The audit topic was requested by the Legislature's 2010 Commission, which is charged with monitoring school finance and school performance.

Audio Clips
Virtual schools

"It was an idea to keep the Legislature up to date with all the things that are happening in the schools," said Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, who suggested the topic to the commission.

Colloton, a member of the House Education Committee, said virtual schools have helped the state serve certain populations who weren't being served by existing public schools.

"We're finding in some areas, they are bringing students back into the school system," Colloton said. "Some home schools have really gotten into using it."

Schools such as the Lawrence Virtual School compete for students, with districts getting $4,316 in state aid for each full-time student enrolled, just as they would with students attending regular brick-and-mortar schools. At that rate, state aid for the expected 1,000 students in the local virtual school would equal $4,316,000.

However, the concept still is new to many people, according to Weseman.

"I think people have a lot of questions," he said. "It's a huge jump moving from a bricks-and-mortar school to a school that exists only on the Internet. : It isn't what some people think it is - you're not just turning your kids loose on a computer."

More than computers

"The legislative post audit is a way for the government to educate themselves about what we do," said Gary Lewis, principal of the Lawrence Virtual School.

Lewis said the LVS now has about 600 students from across the state and it's expected to grow to 1,000 to 1,200 students next year.

"Kansas families have realized that virtual education is a great option or choice for them," he said.

Students at the school don't just use computers, but they get a package of educational materials when they enroll, he said.

For students in grades K-8, one laptop computer and a printer is assigned to every three students in a household, and each full-time high school student gets his or her own laptop.

As the popularity of virtual schools in Kansas has grown, the Legislature wants to know how the schools are working. A special audit team has been formed and will have a report of the 18 virtual schools in Kansas ready by April.

As the popularity of virtual schools in Kansas has grown, the Legislature wants to know how the schools are working. A special audit team has been formed and will have a report of the 18 virtual schools in Kansas ready by April.

The package of materials also includes all curriculum resources, which would include textbooks and even a microscope or chemicals for science classes, he said.

The computers are on loan to the students and must be returned if they drop out of the program, he said. The school provides service to make sure the computers are up and running each day, he said.

Teachers might "meet" with students in a chat room. Or some teachers have weekly conversations with students on the phone and make contact through e-mail.

"We have office hours, but the school day is really a 24-hour day," Lewis said. "And we do have students who are doing their work at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning."

Weseman said many more people were starting to warm up to the idea of virtual schools.

"I think that's indicative of the digital age," he said. "People are becoming more and more comfortable with technology and are willing to pursue some options that five years ago they would have never considered."

The focus

Barbara Hinton, legislative post auditor, says the audit will focus on:¢ How prevalent virtual schools are in Kansas, what they cost and how well they perform.¢ Existing laws and regulations that oversee virtual schools, whether those laws provide enough oversight and how they compare with other states' laws.¢ What virtual schools exist in Kansas, what the enrollment history has been and how the enrollment compares with regular schools.¢ How students perform on state assessment tests compared with their peers attending regular schools.


Richard Heckler 11 years, 4 months ago

Virtual schools likely keep parents involved as they should be. The concern as whether or not it's the parent at the other end of the computer is not a lot different than in the classroom if parents are involved with their children getting the homework done.

Any level of homeschool definitely creates more work for parents.

TheEleventhStephanie 11 years, 4 months ago

If a kid is acting up at a virtual school, do they get a virtual detention and have to stay on-line longer?

Centrist 11 years, 4 months ago

It is a great idea. My son is enrolled and is doing very, very well.

Moderators, aka teachers, check in regularly to ensure all is well and that work is being completed.

No problems there!

This is the perfect way to educate one's child without being saddled with the full cost of outside homeschooling. Our taxes are already paying for it anyway and the schools actually save a little money as well.

This way WE, as parents, can control the environment our child learns in, not to mention being able to protect one's child from other kids, bad teachers, diseases, drugs, violence etc, so that they can actually LEARN and have a good life.

I hear arguments all the time about the lack of 'social interaction'. What a crock. Simply make sure your kid interacts with others regularly, like on a sporting team, or with friends, neighbors, etc.

The Lawrence Virtual School is very good. I hope the government doesn't screw it up with their 'audits', because it actually WORKS.

Kookamooka 11 years, 4 months ago

Is it possible for parents that live in areas OUT of state, that have not such good school districts, Say in NYC or KCMO, to enroll in the Lawrence Virtual School?

Centrist 11 years, 4 months ago

I believe at this time it is limited to the state border of Kansas.

sourpuss 11 years, 4 months ago

From Centrist: "This way WE, as parents, can control the environment our child learns in, not to mention being able to protect one's child from other kids, bad teachers, diseases, drugs, violence etc, so that they can actually LEARN and have a good life."

From me: Well, someone's a little overprotective. I guess it will come as a shock at the age of 18 to your bundle of joy that people are mean and germy and some teachers aren't very good. I guess we'll need virtual universities too, and then virtual jobs, and then we can have a virtual funeral for them after a virtual marriage and two virtual children. I went to a brick-and-mortar school, dealt with the harrassment, bad teachers, and even the germs (spread a few around myself!) and I learned a lot and am having a perfectly nice life, thank you. The best part has been having parents who didn't and don't try to keep me in a bubble. I'm so grateful to them that they don't feel the need to "control my environment." The world ISN'T controlled. Sooner tykes learn that, the less naive they will be.

avoice 11 years, 4 months ago

Sourpuss, you're so...sour! Sorry your life is so rotten. Maybe it's because you have so many left over issues from those bricks-and-mortar schools you attended.

My children have been enrolled in LVS for three years now, as elementary students. I prefer that "tykes" learn some discipline and some family values before being turned over to their peers with minimal adult interaction. At the middle school level, having made it through elementary years without becoming jaded and, well, mean, they have better self-esteem. I have proof of this. My daughter entered jr high this year after having spent k-3rd in bricks/mortar and 4th & 5th at home with LVS. She is so much better adjusted than her friends who have been in the b/m school all the way through. She neglected to pick up a lot of the posturing and meanness that her tween compatriots display to an alarming degree. She also worked about a year ahead in core subjects and picked up some extra training in music, art history, general science and history that were not offered in our local b/m elementary school. And, best of all, she score advanced in her state assessment tests without extra tutoring, pep talks, pizza parties or other types of carrot/stick harassment. I hope some day she will say " The best part has been having parents who really cared about me and about my education. I'm so grateful to them that they don't feel the need to entrust my entire upbringing to the government."

Centrist 11 years, 4 months ago

Well, sourpuss, I'm not willing to risk my child's life, because our local school has already had issues with violence and kids bringing weapons to school. In this free-market country, somehow, we're not allowed to choose which school the kids go to. Can't figure that out!

I hear this all the time, about how they NEED to experience all the ills of school life in order to confront the world.

I say that's bollocks.

My job as a parent is to protect my child for as long as I can. At 18, he will be well-adjusted, well-educated, and will already be prepared. Why? Because as parents, we are VERY active in educating him about life, etc. We also hold him accountable when necessary. He can go off the rails when he moves out of home, but he probably won't, because we will have taught him all we know, including everything we've experienced ourselves, about how to deal with life.

Schools in America are just not schools any more, not like when you and I went to school and the worst thing we faced was some peer pressure and maybe a fight here and there.

Now they bring weapons, extra high peer pressure, very bad 'culture', influences, drugs, you name it. These days kids as young as 8 are dressing like sluts or gang members.

My child can experience all that at his choosing, when he's 18 and going to university.

In the meantime, I'm going to let him be a kid for as long as possible.

short_one 11 years, 4 months ago

Sourpuss: I am curious to know if you have a kid in our public schools currently?!?! We have had a great experience in LPS at the elementary level but our daughter will go to private school for junior high/high school. This was her decision and my husband and I agree. She is a bright kid and pretty well-behaved (not a complete angel and not a genius) but she is tired of all the class time spent on kids who cannot/will not behave. Spend an hour in our schools and see what I mean. I am not trying to "overprotect" her but I want her to be in an environment where the focus is on learning and teaching, not on disciplining. She has had great teachers but with large classes and bratty kids, there is only so much even the best teachers can do. As far as junior high and high school, I want my child to have the opportunity to attend school where there are no police officers in the building.

For the record, my husband and I went to public schools and turned out fine but the schools aren't like they used to be. There are MANY schools in this district (and others, I am sure) where you can walk into a fifth and sixth grade classroom and, with a fair degree of accuracy, pick out a kid or two who is destined to be a felon in a few years and who is going to be pregnant in a few years. Most (all?) of the time, this is the parent's fault and not the kid's fault but all the same, I am not interested in my daughter "learning" in this environment if I have a choice.

So before you jump on others for "overprotecting," you should see for yourself.

justthefacts 11 years, 4 months ago

My personal experience with homeschooled versus public schooled children has shown me that those who oppose home-school environments are short on facts. Do some homework and you might find out that some urban legends decrying the lack of socializing etc are pure bunk. Making parental involvement more likely or necessary often ensures that the child is getting a better and more quality education. I support anything that furthers that goal!

Ask any college admission person or professor about the issue and you will find that children whose education was overseen by a parent, versus a system, is a whole lot more likely to be admitted AND to do better socially and scholastically.

If the whole point of public education was/is to provide information and training to children that they could not get from parents, the virtual school option is a perfect way to adapt to a changing environment.

For myself, and my child, I wish it had been available "Back then"! Bravo to anyone who wishes to take a more active role in raising their child(ren)! And Bravo to the Lawrence school system for getting with the program. It may just save the system from complete extinction!

Christine Hammon 11 years, 4 months ago

My son is in his first year in LVS. He attended k-3 in the Lawrence Public Schools. These are great schools with some very dedicated teachers, but all public schools have their pros and CONS.

Our choice to turn to the LVS was based on our move into another school district, and not preferring that he attend there. LVS works for him because he can work ahead and is motivated by being able to do so. He is able to see the direct corelation between his work in the "classroom" and being able to finish the school year/schoolday earlier.

We make the effort to go on all field trips available, which in the public schools you are limited to school funding and the kids may get only a few trips a year. We are able to take as many field trips as possible and still stay on schedule. He is able to have the opportunity to be social with kids he'd otherwise never meet and doesn't become trained to socialize exclusively with his "grade level". He isn't sitting in a classroom waiting to move on to the next problem if he's done early AND he's not sitting there waiting for someone(teacher or para) to help him understand the materials if he's NOT getting it.

Jillian Andrews 11 years, 4 months ago

Are these online classes accessible to students with disabilities? Is the letter of the law (IDEA & ADA) being met with these online offerings?

costello 11 years, 4 months ago

Short_one: My son is one of those "bratty" children you refer to. He's 15 and has been with me for 2 1/2 years. I've adopted him from the foster care system. What others see as brattiness is actually psychiatric problems caused by his early life experiences and being in the foster care system.

I wish my son could be educated in an environment which better meets his special needs. Unfortunately the law requires that he be in the "least restrictive environment" at school. This means he spends most of his days in regular ed classes with "normal" children. And he sometimes disrupts the class with his oppositional and defiant behaviors. It isn't best for my son or for the other children in the class.

Furthermore, the administration of the school is clueless on how to handle him, so they tend to make his behaviors worse in the way they discipline him. They also get the school resource officer involved often, and currently my son has a misdemeanor battery case (from Nov. 2005!) pending against him for an incident which could have been avoided if he'd been handled differently (i.e., not forced to try and operate without support in an environment which he isn't emotionally ready for yet).

My son has improved a lot since he's come to live with me, but he has a long way to go before he's fully healed. The environment at his junior high is not conducive to making him well and sometimes even seems harmful.

So his educational needs aren't being met, his mental health is being compromised, and the prosecutor would have him labelled a criminal. Believe me, if I could get him out of the public schools, I'd do it in a heart beat.

Stops4armadillos: The virtual school isn't an option for my son, because he needs a lot of one-on-one attention to get his work done, and I'm a single mom.

It's interesting that the district closed the alternative school at about the same time they opened the virtual school. The alternative school might have been a good option for my son, but now it's gone.

short_one 11 years, 4 months ago

Costello: Thank you for what you are doing for your son. I wish you the best. It is frustrating when there are laws and policies (NCLB is the one I am most familiar with but I realize you are faced with others that are even more restrictive) that force our educational system to compromise the best interests of our children--the children that are supposed to be served by the system. Best of luck to you.

costello 11 years, 4 months ago

Thank you, short_one. I wish we could put together an educational system that works for all the kids. Unfortunately it seems like any time the government gets involved in anything, it makes a mess of it. ;-)

Centrist 11 years, 4 months ago

blue73harley .... I am not going to "deal with" my son being hurt or killed.

You see, my wife and I had a child that we actually wanted.

And as for shrinks, etc. I'd bet that homeschooled kids are way LESS prone to need a shrink later on. If anything, they'll be better equipped to have a decent life, and expect others around them to elevate their results as well.

So sit there in your "real" chair with your "real" keyboard ... while others help to change the world for the better.

Once upon a time I would have agreed wholeheartedly with you, but after Columbine and the myriad of unsafe things that have happened in schools ever since, some of us are actually doing something about keeping our children safe, disciplined, well-educated and healthy.

That's called "parenting" ..

happyone 11 years, 4 months ago

I am glad that those of you who can afford to send your children to LVS can do so. We looked into it for our child and simply can not afford it and of course were told there are no programs for low income like at the b&m schools. And then top that off with the fact that some of the courses offered WILL NOT COUNT on the permantent record makes it an option that only the richest can afford. When opting to be a parent and stay at home and raise your children so they don't grow up to be the "disruptive kid" penalizes you (because of the lower income) there is something wrong with society. And that is something that unfortunately will not be fixed. So once again the rich get richer -- because they get the better education and the poor get poorer because they don't have the same opportunities.

prioress 11 years, 4 months ago

Ask any college admission person or professor about the issue and you will find that children whose education was overseen by a parent, versus a system, is a whole lot more likely to be admitted AND to do better socially and scholastically.

There is truth to this statement. Homeschools are the best and worst, and, with current regulations, there is no way to tell which is which. Some are getting kids ready for very high level education; others are excuses for cheap labor, farm work or worse. Home schooling is a legitimate choice, but needs some supervision. This is why administrators must turn in home schooled kids truant every year. If there is something wrong, SRS can check it out.

satchel 11 years, 4 months ago

I must say to sourpuss and the other commenter in agreement: Public school is not evil like you seem to think we think it is.. It is just that now a days elementary kids DO need to be sheltered until they are ready to handle all the social indoctrination the schools shove down their throats. I am not against sending my boys to public if later in their years of school they want to go or if there are classes they can take that will help them more.

School really wasn't meant for socialization OR social indoctrination. It was meant for ACADEMICS. That is why you go to school.. To learn. Most of the people I know who grew up in public hated most of their peer relationships because of all the PEER PRESSURE.. There were a few good friends, but think about it.. One can make friends in the neighborhood or on a baseball team.. Actually, those are usually the ones you do more stuff with anyway.

Now a days schools are hellbent on teaching your kid about sex and what is their version of 'a family' as early as 2nd grade.. My kid will learn about that in MY TIMING.. That is MY JOB not the schools.

Also, both of my boys have special needs and they are high functioning, and the school refused an IEP for my one with aspergers, and refused a para for my one with autism. All because they aren't behavior problems.. (Probably because we had great therapy for them, AND we parent opposite the way the world tells us to).

They are highly intelligent, but are slow writing and wouldn't be albe to keep up with the fast pace of the classroom, so homeschooling is an excellent choice. They get tons of socialization at home, at church, on their sports teams, with the neighbors and each other.

Virtual school is going to be our choice next year.

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