Michigan Allows More Online Learning for Some High Schools

January 06, 2009 12:31 PM
by Emily Coakley
Students in a few Michigan high schools could take all of their courses online, thanks to a state waiver.

Online Learning Embraced in Michigan

Michigan is allowing some high school students to take more classes online. The Detroit Free-Press reported Sunday that 11 school districts and a charter school got a waiver to allow them to break state rules requiring students to be in the school building for approximately 1,100 hours during a school year. The waiver also applies to a limit of the number of online courses a student can take outside the school each year.

“What we’re going to learn is not only which kids do well, but what kinds of support a district can give them to help them succeed in a virtual learning environment,” MaryAlice Galloway, senior adviser to the chief academic officer at the state’s Department of Education, told the Free-Press.

The waivers allow the schools to run pilot programs, so not every student will be eligible.

As further evidence of the state’s interest in online learning, last month Michigan Virtual School gave an award for the state’s Online Teacher of the Year. The recipient, Lorrie MacDonald, teaches high school students the basics of forensic science, the Free-Press reported. According to the newspaper, on the Web, “the students can perform virtual analyses with simulated testing of liquids, powders and evidence. Lorri has photographed simulated crime scenes using her sister, Kathy MacDonald, as a victim, and her mother’s living room as the scene of the murderous mayhem.”

The Center for Digital Education in November named Michigan second among the 50 states for online education, according to the paper. Florida was named first. Michigan has a relatively long history of encouraging online learning, and the state legislator created the Virtual School several years ago.

“MVU offers more than 200 high school courses and enrollment has spiraled upward from 100 students in the 1999–2000 school year to an expected 15,000 this school year,” the paper reported.

In Arkansas, some districts have embraced the Internet and online courses by making school buses wireless, The Wall Street Journal reported. Wireless buses, part of a program called the Aspirnaut Initiative, gives certain students laptops or video iPods so they can take online courses or watch educational videos during long bus rides. Some students have found the school bus too distracting an environment, but others have thrived.

Opinion & Analysis: Online learning’s effectiveness questioned

Though online learning has spread steadily, critics say it offers a “less than complete educational experience,” findingDulcinea reported in July.

Taking a course through the Internet means also having access to other resources on the same subject. Advocates say this access provides people with a more enriched experience, while critics say the wide range of resources can make it hard for people to concentrate on one thing at a time.

Related Topic: Efforts to improve graduation rates

The state of Maryland is allowing seniors to take their high school exit exams several times to help more people graduate, a program that the state has only approved for this school year. As many as 4,000 Maryland high school students are in danger of not graduating.

The waiver is controversial. As findingDulcinea reported in December: “Although critics of the waiver argue that it is counterproductive to make students take the exit tests before they complete the courses on which the tests are based, supporters insist that exemption is meant to level the playing field for students faced with challenges beyond their control, and ultimately reverse decreasing national graduation rates.”

Reference: Guide to online courses


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