Freshman year for free: Don’t show up

“Free college” is already here, for students who can handle online learning. Modern States Education Alliance‘s Freshman Year for Free kicked off this fall: Students can earn a year of no-cost college credit via edX classes.

With funding from philanthropist Steven B. Klinsky, Modern States has given edX the money to develop more than 30 entry-level college courses, taught by “some of the world’s leading universities and professors,” according to the New York-based nonprofit.

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In addition to online lectures, each course includes quizzes and tests. Textbooks and other learning materials will be provided online at no charge.

Courses will prepare students to pass Advanced Placement or College Level Examination Program” (CLEP) tests offered by the College Board. Courses include Sociology, Chemistry, Macroeconomics, Marketing, Business Law and more.

The Texas State University System is encouraging nontraditional (adult) students to skip freshman year by using the edX classes, reports the Texas Trib.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) tend to have very low completion rates, especially for less-educated students. However, that’s partly due to the uncertain payoff: Those who stick with the course typically don’t earn credit.

Virtual competence

A “virtual” student in New Hampshire, Emily Duggan, 16, has time to dance 12 hours a week.

All-online schooling is growing in popularity, despite weak performance by students, writes Hechinger’s Chris Berdik in WIRED.

However, New Hampshire’s self-paced Virtual Learning Academy Charter School is an online success story, he writes. With a “focus on building strong student-teacher relationships,” VLACS boasts full-time virtual students who do as well or better than the New Hampshire average in reading and math and on the SAT.

Most virtual schools are paid based on enrollment, leading to arguments about whether a student is really “in attendance.” VLACS, a nonprofit, is paid when students show mastery of specific skills and abilities. Students use “a personalized blend of traditional lesson plans, offline projects and real-world experiences” to learn “competencies.”

Students do the bulk of their learning independently. They make their own way through online lessons, digital texts and multimedia, and follow links to extra, explanatory resources. They upload all their work. Yet the students and parents interviewed for this story said that they have more one-on-one interactions with teachers than they did in traditional schools.

(PE/wellness teacher Lisa) Kent opened her laptop to show the dashboard that tracks her students. She can sort them by grade or by the last time they logged into class, submitted work or checked in with her. If a student has been inactive for more than a week, Kent will reach out to see if everything’s OK.

VLACS doesn’t assume parents will serve as teachers and tutors.

Students are also matched with a guidance counselor and an academic adviser who help them create and follow a “C3” (short for college, career and citizenship) readiness plan. . . . tutoring is available through four “skills coaches.”

New Hampshire requires high schools to offer credit for mastering competencies rather than “seat time,” writes Berdik. That opened the door to VLACS.

Here are three recommendations for improving online charter schools.

Competency-based funding would place the emphasis where it belongs — on student learning and mastery, rather than on whether a child is logged into a computer,” said Fordham’s Chad Aldis in response to a proposal to change Ohio’s funding of virtual schools.

Online, blended schools face critics

Photograph of Elizabeth Novak-Galloway
Elizabeth Novak-Galloway, 12, center, seen with mother Gabriela Novak and sister Kira, 8, was pulled from a K12 school by her dissatisfied mother. Photo: Dai Sugano, Bay Area News Group

Virtual (all-online) and blended learning schools aren’t doing as well as traditional schools, concludes a National Education Policy Center report. Performance is especially low at for-profit schools, researchers said.

The report recommends slowing or halting the growth of virtual and blended schools, writing rules that specify a student-teacher ratio and other measures, reports Hechinger’s Nichole Dobo.

Officials at K12 Inc., a for-profit company that operates a significant share of the nation’s online schools, said they had noticed flaws in the data – such as missing schools and inaccurate demographic numbers. They took issue with the report’s methodology, saying that high turnover rates in online schools make it difficult to compare these schools to more traditional models.

K12’s California Virtual Academies were accused of “cashing in on failure” by the San Jose Mercury News after a recent investigation. In particular, graduation rates are very low.

I think it’s hard to compare students who choose all-online schools with those in traditional schools. It’s not just apples and oranges. It’s apples and zucchini. Overall, though, research suggests that learning online requires maturity and motivation — or, at least, a parent’s close supervision. Students who couldn’t succeed with an in-person teacher aren’t likely to do better with a virtual teacher.

The report is way off base on blended learning, responds Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, who questions what’s counted as a “blended learning school.”

Furthermore, “Does blended learning work?” is the wrong question, she writes.

That is tantamount to asking: Do textbooks work? Do lectures work? Do small group interactions work? Of course these delivery methods—like blended learning—vary widely in their effectiveness depending on how they are implemented. Instead, we need to evaluate specific blended learning models relative to acute problems that individual school systems are trying to solve.

Blended learning — a mix of online and face-to-face instruction — is spreading rapidly, she writes. By 2019, half of high school courses will incorporate online learning with “the vast majority of these using blended learning instructional models.” Christensen researchers predict.

CREDO: Virtual charter students learn less

Most virtual K-12 charter schools learn significantly less than students at traditional public schools, according to a new CREDO study.

The average full-time online student lost 72 days of reading progress, on average, and a full year in math, the study concluded.

“It is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year,” said Margaret E. Raymond, project director at Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO.

The study looked at virtual students in 17 states and the District of Columbia between 2008 and 2013. It did not include students in “blended learning” programs that combine online and teacher-led instruction.

Nina Rees, who runs the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, called for “dramatically” improved oversight and closing low-performing virtual charters. One option could be “funding full-time virtual charter public school students via a performance-based funding system.”

Virtual schooling works for some students, said Rees in a statement. The study found 30 to 40 percent of full-time online students do as well or better than traditional students.

Center for Education Reform questioned the study’s “virtual twin” methodology used to create a control group. “Many parents choose online options for their children based on exceptional circumstances and situations, ranging from safety and bullying concerns, to academic issues, to social and emotional issues, medical reasons, and more,” CER said.

A different Stanford study found that “marginal” DeVry University students learn less in online courses than traditional courses.

A for-profit university, DeVry offers both online and in-person courses with the same syllabus, textbook, assignments, quizzes, tests, and grading rubrics.

High achievers may learn just as much online, but, for lower-achieving students, taking a course online “reduces student learning, as measured by course grades, and lowers the probability of persistence in college,” researchers concluded. Procrastination is the likely suspect.

Via Jay P. Greene’s Blog.

Indiana is #1 in parent power

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Indiana remains the “reformiest” state in the union on the Center for Education Reform’s Parent Power Index.

A much-tested and improved charter school law offers a wide variety of options. A path-breaking, statewide school choice program has attracted tens of thousands of parents who have chosen private schools for their children. Indiana also offers more digital learning opportunities than most states and can boast a pretty decent record of teacher quality measures that put the public in the driver’s seat.

Indiana gets an “A.” Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Utah earn “B” grades on the index.

Online students are ‘telepresent’ — as robots

Thomas Felch uses a telepresence robot to connect with students at Nexus Charter in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Nichole Dobo

Thomas Felch is a “telepresent” teacher at Nexus Academy of Columbus. Photo by Nichole Dobo

Nexus Academy of Columbus, an Ohio charter high school, is experimenting with telepresent teachers, writes Nichole Dobo on the Hechinger Report.

The school employs some “in-the-flesh” teachers, but others teach online courses from a distance, interacting with students  “through a computer screen or phone call,” writes Dobo. Now, the school has two robots.

Thomas Fech, who teaches social studies from his home in Arizona, enjoys using the robot to talk to students and staff in Ohio.

Lights flash on the robot body when a teacher signs in to control the robot. A screen the size of a small tablet computer shows a live video of the teacher’s face. A webcam flips open above the screen, revealing the Cyclops eye that helps the long-distance teacher “drive” around the school. They zip around the school just like any other teacher – except when the robot crashes into walls and doorways. The depth perception and peripheral vision aren’t great, Fech said. But the technological hiccups don’t bother him.

“It’s fun,” Fech said. “I like driving it around and feeling like I am in the school. It’s neat to feel like I am part of the classroom.”

Michigan State has been experimenting with “telepresent” robots that let online graduate students participate in face-to-face classes.

PhD candidates can take educational psychology and educational technology in person or online.  Until now, online students appeared on a wall-mounted screen. They felt like “second-class citizens” in class said John Bell, an associate education professor.B9c1WIwIUAQ0_ap

In the pilot, two online students used KUBI telepresence robots: The online student’s face appears on an iPad screen, and the student can move the pedestal to control his or her point of view. Two others used Double robots, which can move around the room.

“The students were ecstatic,” said Bell. “It changed how they engaged with the class. One student said, ‘This was the first time it mattered to me if I knew the names of the face-to-face students because I could turn and look at them.’ That was a dramatic response.”

A different way to do college

Minerva is a selective liberal arts college without a classroom or campus, reports PBS NewsHour.

The dormitory is on one floor of this old apartment building Nob Hill. Students will spend the first year here, and then the subsequent six semesters living and studying in six different cities around the world. Next year, they head to Buenos Aires and Berlin.

But the professors don’t go with them. In fact, they can be anywhere, including home, because they see their students exclusively online, via a proprietary software platform called the Active Learning Forum. It fosters a face-paced, engaging, seminar-style class. No lectures allowed.

Minerva has partnered with the Keck Graduate Institute, part of the Claremont University Consortium, to gain accreditation.

Competency degrees help working adults

Working adults are turning to online competency-based programs to cut the cost and time of earning a degree.

Virtual ed works in Florida

“Virtual education” is working for Florida high school students, concludes a Program on Education Policy and Governance working paper.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students taking Algebra or English I earn do as well or better on state math and reading tests as those in traditional courses, report Matt Chingos of Brookings and Guido Schwerdt of the University of Konstanz.

FLVS has expanded access to Advanced Placement and other courses, the study found.

Technology can support at-risk students’ learning concludes a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). “Well-designed interactive programs allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations.”

School choice isn’t enough

School choice shouldn’t just be about “which one” but also about “what kind or how much or even whether or not,” writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post.

American education is almost exclusively designed to prepare students for university study and bachelor degrees. Even kindergarten teachers talk to kids and parents about “college readiness.” The added emphasis on STEM subjects in recent years narrows the focus even more.

Excluded from the system, however, are students who would prefer to learn a trade and work in skilled labor. Excluded are the kids who focus predominantly on the arts. Excluded are students who won’t sit passively in rows for 12 years completing worksheets and bubbling in standardized tests. Excluded are many children who don’t fit the “common” profile with “common” goals and standardized dreams.

Public education “should be offered as an opportunity,” writes Mazenko, a high school English teacher. It shouldn’t be a “mandate.”