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More online classes on the horizon

computerBy Stephen Ingber
Capital News Service

LANSING — Parents around the state are contemplating online virtual school for their children. Starting in November, an online catalog will be available to students and schools, along with syllabi for supplemental courses.

“Having these classes has only enriched the curriculum,” said Scott Moellenberndt, superintendent of Blissfield Community Schools. The district has added foreign language options it could not afford before. “We are not losing any money at all,” said Moellenberndt of the extra classes.

In June, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law allowing students grades 5-12 with parent or guardian consent to sign up for two online classes. Starting in 2014, students can take these courses through Michigan Virtual University (MVU).

“Michigan was one of the first states to require a virtual education component to graduate,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, president and chief executive officer of MVU.

More than one-fifth of students are already taking online college classes and the experiment phase is over when it comes to virtual education, said Fitzpatrick. For example, students from Monroe can take classes from schools in the Upper Peninsula and vice versa, said Fitzpatrick. Students will be able to select from two catalogs: the first one is compiled by each school district and the second is a statewide catalog with hundreds of classes.

The Blissfield school district has 1,237 students about 12 miles southwest of Adrian, Mich. In a rural community such as Blissfield, the high school is small in comparison to many other state schools. By allowing students to access a virtual university, the high school is able to add languages like German, Italian and Latin, Moellenberndt said.

Under the recently passed law, school districts can decline to pay for classes under specific circumstances, for example, if the student has maxed out the per student allotment for which each district budgets. The catalogs are set to be released in November for parents to preview, with the official start date of classes being Jan. 1, 2014.

“I feel virtual education will have no major effect on the public school system going forward,” said Stephen Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, in partnership with MVU, conducted a study on the needs for virtual schooling in secondary schools. Some of the biggest needs identified by the survey were teaching educators how to blend curricula and have the online courses carry the same rigor as those in physical schools.

Almost three quarters of state residents surveyed wanted Michigan teachers overseeing the courses conducted online. And 87 percent of those surveyed had a child who was enrolled in an online course during the 2011-12 school year.

Big Rapids Community Schools offer virtual education through APEX Learning, a company it has been working with for five years.

“Virtual education offers students an opportunity to learn for those who excel in non-traditional environments,” said Tim Haist, the superintendent.


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