Tag Archives: online education

Life in “Standby” Mode?

It is the second half of the school year, and I am traveling quite a bit around the state of Minnesota.  As the dean of students for an online school, my primary role is to deal with attendance issues.  Yes – we take attendance in the online setting; it just looks a bit different than in a seat-based school.  If you ever want to attend a training on it, let me know – I have connections (or I will just run a webinar for you and you alone).

This role takes me to far-off place like International Falls where I can see Canada just across the river from a gas station on my way to court.  I drive almost everywhere, and my trusty Honda Civic’s stereo is my best friend as it pumps out the tunes or a book on CD.

On a recent trip, I realized that I was in complete silence as I drove. I could not remember when or why I had I had chosen silence over noise, but I had.


I played with the volume knob a bit before I glanced over to the stereo and saw that it was indeed in “standby” mode.


As I drove through the frozen tundra of Northern Minnesota, I realized that I was missing all of the beauty that was there for me to see.  I drove, day-dreamed, and “spaced out” – completely lost in thoughts that no longer have much bearing.  I doubt that the thinking was productive.  I doubt that the day-dreaming truly involved dreaming – by that I mean that I was not making future plans for great things in my family’s life.

I just stood by.

Well, in this case, I was sitting…and driving.

Regardless of what the position is – standing by, sitting by, laying by – life is going past us as we stand by.  Sometimes we have to wait. We wait on the Lord. We wait on other people to make decision. We wait.  But most of the time, at least in my life, I am not waiting on anyone else…I am just not being an active participant in life. 

I am letting it pass by me, allowing it to go on without much thought, and lacking much interest in how it impacts me until I am so unhappy about something that I stomp my feet and say, “Stop! This isn’t how I wanted it to be.”

But I had not taken any time to consider how I did want it to be.  I had not actively done anything to make it go differently.  So when I get to point B without realizing I had left point A, I want to blame everyone else rather than looking in the mirror.

When I live in standby mode, I am to blame for life going in certain directions.

I give life implicit permission when I do not explicitly take a daily inventory of how I want it to be.  And – if I do not take time to consult God about how He might want my life to go, I certainly cannot blame Him when it just goes poorly.

Is this happening to anyone else?  Are there some times that we let this happen more than others? Or perhaps in certain areas of our lives more than others?

I would love to hear your thoughts today in the comment section!

PS: I have a renewed sense of wanting to write in this blog; however, I think that a daily submission might be overly ambitious at the present way that life is.  I am hoping to have  a Monday-Wednesday-Friday submission routine down.  It’s March 1, and some things need to change and be re-prioritized.  I hope that this sense of ambition remains!

How are you all?


Filed under faith, health, Thoughts, Travel

Online Learning: A Dual Perspective

As an online educator, I have seen the power of online learning from the perspective of a teacher.  I have seen online education be a vehicle for bright students to move quickly in through concepts that they have mastered so that they can go more deeply into concepts that interest them.  I have seen online education be a vehicle to allow students who are involved in rigorous competitive activities such as gymnastics, snowboarding, or horse jockeying stay in school while competing nationally and globally. I have seen online education allow students with challenges meet their goals of obtaining their high school diploma.

Online learning is powerful.

I was reminded again last night about the power of online learning for my own children.  As they sat in the live session with their teacher from New Zealand, my heart was so happy.  My children have used online learning off and on for the past six years as needs have come up with scheduling or class offerings (mostly math).  Our son spent a year and half as a full-time online student before he returned to a seat-based school due to the extra-curricular options available to him and his desire to have daily in person interactions with other kids his age.

Online learning can be full-time or part-time.

Often when people hear of online schools, they only imagine the full-time students who work from home in their pajamas.  (An aside: not all full-time students work from home in their pajamas, but it is a nice benefit – as my son.)  However, many students enrolled in a seat-based school take online classes as part of their educational experience. 

Reasons for this include the following:
    • Scheduling issues
    • Limited course offerings at the seat based school for a variety of reasons (funding!)
    • A desire to expand on the high school experience through electives
    • A desire to pursue outside activities

    By the way – all students in Minnesota are eligible for part-time online classes.  The school where they attend can reduce their course load by the number of courses they take online. They law states that students can take up to 50% of their courses online, and their enrolling school can sign a waiver to allow them to take more.  Click here for more information on this in Minnesota.

    The challenge for full-time online students is in person interaction.

    As part of my job as dean of students at an online school, I go to court when students (who stayed in their pajamas but never logged in and did any work) have had attendance issues.  (An aside: In Minnesota, students who attend the publically funded online schools remain subject to attendance and truancy laws.)  I obviously cannot share the details of the hearing because of privacy laws.  However – after the hearing – I had a conversation with the county attorney who asked about how online schools overcome the challenge of person-to-person interactions.

    It is a challenge!  However, in the same way that homeschoolers have stated that they can overcome the challenge, students in online learning can.  It takes dedication on the part of parents to help coordinate these efforts, and many online schools encourage it through field trips and giving course credit for service learning (volunteering).  While our son spent his time as a full-time online student, he volunteered with his elementary teacher and helped younger students with reading.  It was a great experience for him!

    Online learning needs to be embraced.

    Although challenges exist, these challenges can be overcome through planning by parents and online programs.  Students will continue to seek online learning as a way to challenge them and support them through their K-12 experience.  It opens doors that the traditional model of school cannot, but traditional models are learning and becoming more flexible.  As online schools become more accountable by state departments for student attendance and testing, they will continue to gain more credibility.  The workload is not lighter, and it is not an easy way to do school.  In fact, most attendance policies require that students do more than simply log on – they need to make progress.  This adds a layer of rigor which is needed to maintain credibility.

    What have readers heard or experienced in terms of online learning?  Have others had children take online classes? If so, what is your impression of the programs?

    ps: Tomorrow will be Day 1 for a weekly webinar series for parents of online learners at my school. I am so excited.  If you want to ever watch one of these, let me know.


    Other posts about online learning from this author:

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Education, Parenting

    Graduation: Online School Style

    It is June in Minnesota.  This means that weekends are filled predominately with fishing, graduations, and graduation parties.

    For the past nine years, I have worked at Minnesota high schools which means that I have now been through nine graduation ceremonies – with seven of them being online school graduations.

    It may shock readers to find out that graduation ceremonies are pretty traditional even in the non-traditional setting such as the online school setting.  Students have the option to physically attend a ceremony, and many choose to do so.   They wear black robes, they walk down an aisle as Pomp and Circumstance plays, and they endure speeches by adults.

    On Saturday, I assisted in the execution of a special online school’s graduation.


    Sixty-eight of the 200+ graduating class from MTS-Minnesota Virtual High School enjoyed their big day in the the Minneapolis Convention Center.  With their 600+ audience, they fulfilled their last high school obligation.

    It was just like any other graduation in that there were diplomas and speeches and pictures – oh my!

    But what was different was that this group of students had probably not met each other in person before that day. They had come from all over the state of Minnesota – some farther than others. In fact, as their names were read, tidbits of who these kids are was also shared.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because they wants a faster or slower pace than the traditional classroom.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because a health situation required an alternate schedule.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because it allowed them to parent their children.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because, for one reason or another, they needed to work – many of them at full-time jobs.

    With each name that was read, a bit of their story was shared.  But…there was so much more about each of them that could have been shared, and I wish that we would have had time to do that.

    Having school choice never seems more important than when a room full of graduates  share why they needed school choice and what that choice has allowed them accomplish.  I am thankful that I live in a state that has these opportunities for its students.

    Both of the student speakers shared about having hopes and dreams for their futures; however, more than that, they emphasized the fact that they did not thing those dreams would be possible had they not found Minnesota Virtual High School.

    I hope that all students can find the school that is the right fit for them, that they can flourish in that setting, and that they can make their dreams of a high school education a reality.

    Happy Graduation to the Class of 2012!

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Education

    Attendance: Common Sense?

    In my job, I am confronted almost daily with the need for common sense when we approach attendance.  The idea of attendance in an online school is a completely foreign concept for most people, and it was for me until several years ago when I jumped into teaching at an online school.  While at Wolf Creek Online High School, I participated in the development of attendance policies for the online world.

    As I have worked in this now for several years, I have refined my thinking, have shared the concept around the state of Minnesota and in other states (most recently in Michigan – so fun!!!), and have started to think outside of the online world and into the seat-based world.

    attendance pyramidSchool attendance is important, but we often go too far and lack common sense in our application of this value.  As one can conclude from the graphic to the left, I firmly believe in a correlation between school attendance and students passing their classes which eventually leads to graduation.  As this is the ultimate goal that schools presumably have for all of their students, it follows easily, then, that school attendance should be expected from all students.  But notice that, in addition to attendance, access to curriculum is also part of the pyramid. This is there because of my use of this pyramid in the online world.  Accessing curriculum is attendance in the online world.

    But it is not in the seat-based world.

    My latest and greatest question is this: WHY NOT?

    With more and more schools using course management systems such as Moodle, BlackBoard, or Desire2Learn in order to house curriculum, lessons, and videos, accessing curriculum (which used to equate to the butt-in-seat of classroom) now can be done from a sick student’s bedroom while the student recovers from pneumonia.  This completely destroys the concept of seat-based attendance because accessing the curriculum is no longer dependent upon the student being in the classroom.

    As options expand for accessing the curriculum, our definition of attendance and truancy will need to change.

    And it should.

    And when it does, horrible grievances against students will be avoided.

    Within the past year, I have jumped into the Twitter world (mostly due to being able to disseminate my blog posts).  In that same time, I also read Think by Lisa Bloom and then followed her on Facebook and Twitter.  While she and I would likely disagree on some things (and we would both be ok with that as long as our stances can be clearly thought out and defended), she and I do agree on many things such as the need for literacy, the need for an emphasis on education, and the need for many to start thinking!

    Last night, she shared a link on her Twitter-feed that sent me through the roof!

    Click here to watch and read the news story about Diane Tran, the 11th grade honor student who was sent to jail for missing too much time in class.  Instead of dropping out to support herself when faced with a difficult situation, Tran chose to stay in school while also working a full-time job.

    There are many questions that I have about this situation:

    1. Why is she supporting herself and two siblings?

    2. Why are her parents not involved?

    3. Why has no school social worker intervened and kept this student from going to court?

    4. Why has no one talked to this student about taking an online class instead of the first hour class that she often misses due to her life’s schedule?

    5. Why is she still getting good grades when she misses so much class?

    There are solutions to the issue that did not need to involve the student paying a fine, going to jail, or even going to court!  The courts should be used when students and families are not able to cooperate with the school in a reasonable fashion.  They should not be used to punish honor students who are doing just fine in their classes even when they miss the classes.

    I have said and will continue to say it: our system needs an overhaul to get it caught up with the times.  Our laws are still based on the education system of fifty years ago when schools did not even have fax machines.  The last revision of the truancy laws in Texas occurred in 2003; two years later, the Texas legislature passed the law allowing for virtual schools.  Like most other states across the nation, these two lines of thinking did not intersect.

    But they need to do so.

    Moving all of our schools to progress-based attendance will solve issues like that of the case of Diane Than.  She is but one student who has been caught in the cross-fire of attendance and truancy laws being outdated and poorly applied.  The intent of these laws are to engage all students in learning which would lead to successful lives.  When we lose of the intent of laws in the midst of applying them without common sense, we do the students of our nation a disservice.

    This is why I do what I do.  I want to see these laws applied correctly to the students and families who need them.  And I want to see students and families to whom these laws no longer apply be freed from the shackles of old thinking.

    What do you think?

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Education, Parenting

    Exploring Minnesota–Testing Style

    It is testing season in the Minnesota education world. Children and teachers alike dread this time.  Kids do not like to take tests – especially ones that take a long time. Since all kids test at difference speeds, there is frustration that abounds.  There is so much to this, but that is not the point of this email.

    As an online educator, testing season brings specific challenges. Although the curriculum my online school is entirely online, testing needs to be done in person in a specific location.  My school sends out testers to locations all around the state to test kids on site.  We try to make it so that no student has to drive more than two hours for a testing site on the first round – that was last week.  We are now on round two for those who missed last week; their drive might be a bit longer.

    Minnesota is a huge state – about 360 miles from east to west and about 407 miles from north to south.  To put this into perspective for my Rhode Island relatives: 149 Rhode Islands would fit into Minnesota.

    I have been on the road since 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday to support this state-wide testing effort. It just so happened that some truancy court cases coincided with some needs that we had.  I spent Tuesday dealing with International Falls. If I had taken my passport along, I could have visited Cananda!  On Wednesday, I headed to Grand Rapids. And today, I will am in Two Harbors.

    I have had a great week!!!

    I have seen wooded areas, wide open areas, lakes, lakes, and more lakes.  And I have crossed the Mississippi River more times than I can remember.  I even saw a little snow bank!  I have seen lighthouses, birds of prey that I cannot identify, and border patrol officers.  I have seen signs for wild rice, maple syrup, and organic veggies.

    While watching (on TV) the Red Sox and Twins battle it out last night, I saw a GREAT tourism commercial for Minnesota.  Please check out the video by clicking here – it is so great!

    I love Minnesota. I love its variety of landscape, its wonderful people, and its excellent roads – even if I wish the speed limits on the non-interstate roads were faster. I love this state.  And I love my job which has allowed me to Explore Minnesota a lot in three days!

    Happy Thursday!

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Education, Travel

    Tangent: Drive-Truancy-Support Network

    Oy vey!  I love to drive; I really do…but this month is hitting an extreme.  For my job as dean of students at an online school, I do a bit of traveling to attend court for students who are truant.  Today I am in Hibbing, MN.  Where is that?  Google it.  Next week, I will be in Thief River Falls, MN.  And the week after that, I will be in International Falls, MN – almost in Canada!  Fun stuff…and tiring.  I left my house this morning just after 6 a.m. (not on time, by the way), and I was thankful that my maps were correct in their estimation rather of how long it takes to get there.  Today is a long day.

    How can a student be truant in an online school?

    Great question!  It is the question that consumes most of my working (and lots of other) moments.

    Being truant in an online school is easier than in a traditional school.  Do not be offended by this, but truancy in a traditional school can most easily be avoided by simply showing up.  The student does not have to do work. The student does not even  have to stay away.  If the student’s butt is in the seat, the student is in attendance.  In an online school, attendance is defined as the progress that a student makes.  This still does not ensure that the student will pass or do quality work, but I do believe that it is one step closer to a decent requirement over the butt in seat requirement.

    libraryWhat are you up today? 

    My office is the Hibbing Public Library. 

    No cell phones!


    I can honestly say that if you are not thinking about how you can be a part of student’s life, you should consider it.  Students need support networks.  Every student that goes to court has a situation that makes my heart sad.  I am not asking everyone to be everything for every kid.  I am asking you to consider how you can be part of a network…how you can be one part of a fence that goes around a kid to support success.  Maybe you are good at something…like encouraging the student to dream…

    What do you think?  Who was your support network? How was that network important to where you are today?  What is the small thing you can do to be a part of something great?

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Education

    Be Nice Already!

    All week I have struggled with being nice.

    It is not that I cannot be nice or that I do not have niceness in me.  I think is mostly because of the time of year it is.  February has hit, and from now until the end of the school year, I anticipate being in court or diversion meetings for truancy more than I am in the office.  While I love this part of my job, I would truly be happy to report some day that I need to develop a new niche for myself because we have eradicated truancy issues at our school.

    When I talk to parents on the phone, I try really hard to be nice.  In fact, I believe that I am. I listen to the stories that they share – some of them very tragic – and I try to convey empathy.  I know that life is difficult, the economy is hard, and that circumstances can get in the way of life.  However, there are times that people need a wake up call, and that call often comes from my office.  Education is required in this country.  Our laws show that we value it (even when our state budgets do not, but I do not want to be political right now).  We want educated citizens.  As an educator working in the area of truancy, I have developed a little graphic that shows why attendance is important (see below).

    attendance pyramid

    Kids do not graduate if they do not attend.  It is really that simple.  I do not need to elaborate on this idea.  One cannot earn a high school diploma if one does not attend school.  Enough said. It is even more true in online education.  How will students pass classes if they do not even log in to the system?  I mean, really…!!!!

    So – sometimes, I struggle with being nice.  In fact, the more truant that a student is and the more outlandish the “reason” (read here – excuse) that I am given for the absences, the less nice I am.  It is really that simple.  And this week, I have had more than a fair share of times when being nice was really hard.  In fact, I probably was not nice more times than I was. I was honest, gave suggestions about how to improve student achievement, and even suggested to a few parents that a traditional school with more structure might be a better choice for their children.

    It was in those moments that I was accused of not being nice.  How dare I suggest that the online setting may not be the most appropriate setting for their children?!?!?  The weird thing was that I was nice when I said it.  In fact, it was the most compassionate thing I could have said at the time!  My school’s setting is not appropriate for all students, and those particular students were a good example of that truth.

    If “being nice” means saying something other than the truth, then I stomp my foot and say loudly – NO, I will not be nice!

    And this kind of got me thinking a little bit about how exasperated I get when someone speaks truth into my life about something.  If I struggle with something like anger and someone points it out to me when I have inappropriately expressed anger, it is not that they are not being nice to me. They are simply being honest with me.  Instead of focusing on the fact that I have an anger issue, I focus on the fact that someone was mean to me.  That mean person picked on me again.  She is always picking on me.

    Huh…sound familiar?

    So – at the end of the week, I employed some new tactics and inserted some verbiage into my conversations with families.  I said things like, “I just want to be clear that the goal here is your student’s success in school.  What can we do to change the current trend that does not support success?”  I have always said things like, “I am concerned about your student’s lack of attendance and its impact on school success.”  But…I think I need to say more things like that.

    I often use “the court system” as a threat right away – scare that family straight; however, in reflecting about how I see others’ interventions into my own life, I think I need to start off a bit more softly.  I also have thought that I could more by scaring them once and not having to follow up later, but realistically – again, considering my own behavior – it would make more sense to make small, incremental steps toward success with frequent follow up and interventions.

    In the end, this is all just behavioral analysis and conditioning.  Attendance is just a symptom of some greater illness in the same way that my temper is just a symptom of some greater illness.  I get a little self-righteous at times, and I need to remember that we all make mistakes, we all have issues, and we all need someone to come alongside of us, challenge our behavior, and walk us back to the right spot on the path of success.

    Happy Saturday!

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Education, Parenting, Thoughts

    Qualities of Successful Online Students

    189618_617445568820_184905552_34969919_2545634_nLast Thursday, I wrote a post about online schools in Minnesota and the validity of their educational model. At the end of my brief thought (929 words), I offered to answer questions in later posts if readers would post questions in the comment section. Today’s post is a response to one of those questions.

    I would like to thank the reader who asked, “Can you please describe qualities of a student that make him/her either a good or not so good candidate for online schooling?”

    Parents are key.  The one quality that I see in successful students in the online setting has less to do with the students and much more to do with the parents.  The more involved the parents are in the oversight of the students’ progress, scheduling, and prioritization, the more successful the students are in online programming.  If parents see the online situation as one that allows for the students to put in hours of babysitting younger siblings, cleaning the house, or working outside of the home, the students will not see school as a priority and will also lack the support needed to complete the online.

    There is a lot of reading in the online setting.  Although this is becoming less of a necessity as curriculum authors integrate more screen readers and audio/visual aspects in the online curriculum, text remains the primary vehicle of getting information from author to student.  In addition, email and instant messaging/chat rooms are primary sources for students gaining help and engaging in discussions with teachers and other students.  Those who struggle with grade level reading may struggle with the online setting.  With the entry of screen readers into the education world, this has decreased some but not enough to leave this concern behind. If students do not like to read, they may not enjoy learning online.

    But there is more.  The more descript answer to this question truly is another brief post.  Unfortunately, some of the same qualities that make students great candidates for success in any classroom are what make them candidates for success in the online classroom.  Self-discipline, motivation, and the ability to work well with little guidance are three necessary qualities that come to mind right away when I hear this question.  And the same qualities that limit a student’s success in the traditional classroom will limit that student in the online classroom: lack of self-discipline, easily distracted, and unable to work well without constant redirection.

    Does this mean that students without motivation should stay away from the online school setting?  No.  Any student can change patterns and become more appropriate in the online setting.

    An illustration of a change in success would do well to prove this point. 

    As I have mentioned previously, my role as dean of students at Minnesota Virtual High School is to work with students who are not attending and help them to become in attendance by submitting assignments and making progress toward full course completion.  If they do not improve their attendance, I report them to their county of residence and let a social worker, county attorney, or judge assist me.  Sometimes this means that students learn how to be successful online students, and other times it means that they return to the traditional school with a daily (hourly) structure, constant in-person supervision, and more direction.  Each student is unique, and it is my job to remember that.

    About two months ago, I went to a diversion meeting for a middle school student who, at the time, logged on each week for about six hours.  We recommend that students put in 25 hours each week in order to be successful.  At the meeting, the student had many reasons (excuses) for not logging on to school, but the social worker did not accept any of those.  We told the student he could have three months to turn around his behavior or be ordered to go to traditional middle school each day.  For the first few weeks, the student’s behavior did not change.  The social worker made inquiries into the student’s progress, and I shared his progress with her.  We engaged the parent who was overwhelmed with this new way of doing school.

    Because the student could not create a plan for himself and because his parent could not do this either, I created the plan.  Our software actually does this for the students, but that – for some reason – was not enough for this student.  To be honest, many students find the calendar difficult.  And once a student is as far behind as this student, the calendar would feel overwhelming to anyone.  Imagine not doing any schoolwork for the first half of the year and now having to do twice as much work in order to finish.  This would intimidate most adults – and this child is in middle school!

    I printed out the class outlines for the student, divided the assignments by the days left in the semester, and assigned work to the student each day until the last day in the semester.  I paced the student to focus on one class at a time (because the student was so far behind) so that he could see successful completion of courses one at a time…cross the completed course off the list and feel good about it.

    The outcome? We are now a week from the end of the semester, and the student should complete all but possibly one class – the art class.  I wanted to focus on math and language arts classes rather than electives. If anything is not complete, we can deal with the art class.  And the student can always take the art class during the summer as we are a year-round school.

    When I emailed the mom and social worker to see if we needed to meet again, the answer was “no.”  The county will remove the student from their truancy intervention program as soon as our semester ends.  The student and the parent feel good about how to proceed now that they know how much time and effort it takes to complete school in the online setting. The student would rather be in our setting than the traditional setting because of a bullying situation (some kids put a snake in his locker!) at the school where he would attend.

    This student made a choice to change his behavior.  Although that is not always the case, it can be done.  Students who come to the online setting with self-discipline, motivation, and a hardworking attitude will do well.  Students who lack those qualities can definitely change their behavior.  If they do not change, then we counsel them back to a setting that will support them more appropriately.

    1 Comment

    Filed under Education, Freshly Pressed, Parenting

    Go to School, Dummy!

    attendance pyramid

    I know – I’m not supposed to say the word “dummy.”  It’s the “D” word, right?  That is what the boy and the girl used to think when they were too little to know what the real “D” word was.  They also thought “shut up” was the “S” word.  It really rocked their world to get on a school bus and find out what the real “S” word is.

    As usual…I digress. The point is that sometimes I feel like kids who do not want to go to school are just dummies – they do not get that they need to go to school.

    Why should kids go to high school?

    It’s all about graduation, right?  Go to school.  Do your schoolwork.  Gain some skills.   Just go to school and get it done.  Maybe make a few friends along the way.  Maybe engage in some clubs or sports.  But at least go to school. Graduate. Move on. Get a life. Get a job. Become a citizen.

    I work with kids who don’t think school is a priority in life.

    This week starts the high truancy court time for me. The rhythm of the school year looks pretty much the same every year.  First semester is the get cozy and get lazy time which then leads to a whole lot of travel time for me as I travel to court dates around the state.

    I love my job!

    Today I am in two counties for court. The first is 45 minutes north of the Twin Cities; the second is about two hours south of the Twin Cities.  When I get home around 6 p.m., I will have put on 240 miles in 10.5 hours.

    I love my job!

    Why do I do it?  I believe in it.  I believe that kids should go to school.  The school by whom I employed is an online school.  These kids should have very little excuse for not attending school.  If they have come to an online school and cannot drag themselves out of bed to sit in front of their computer screen for a few hours in their pajamas, then they have an issue.  And I will make sure that issue is resolved or ask the court to assist them in choosing another school.

    Hennepin County believes in it too.  They are amazing!  They have the best truancy website, the best truancy video for kids (click here to watch it), and the best process for dealing with truancy.  If anyone should know which county in Minnesota does it best, it would be me.  I work with them all.  Hennepin County is the best.

    Today, though, I am not in Hennepin County.  I am in two counties that also have good programs, and I look forward to seeing colleagues whom I have not seen in a few months.  I joked with one of them by email today that I would prefer not to see her again – it would mean that all of my students are doing what they need to do rather than being truant.  Oh well…maybe next year.

    We cannot solve all of the problems of the world today.  Instead, I will try to solve problems in the lives of two young people today.  I doubt we will solve them, but we can start making steps.  I am thankful for that.  We will try very hard to help the students realize that school needs to be a priority.  If it is not, the law will help them make a priority by making their lives uncomfortable.

    Go to school, kids…it’s the law!

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Education, Parenting

    Online Education: A Brief Thought

    Since moving to Minneapolis in 2002, I have worked only in charter schools, and the majority of that time has been in charter schools that happen to also be online schools.  This is a tough business.  Being on the edge of what is coming, being a part of the change before it is accepted by all, and being part of the team who fights for innovation in education is tiring and thankless work.  This week has been unexpectedly tiring in this business for me.  I am currently in an exhausting email exchange that often becomes an exhausting phone conversation (or five) and could eventually be an exhausting in-person meeting. 

    All of this because we are part of innovation.

    The history of online education in Minnesota is one of the oldest in the nation. Legislation (click here to read the “real deal language”) governs public online schools, and the Department of Education approves programs to be a part of the public school system.  The advantage for families is that they can “school choice” into an online school as full-time students.  There is also legislation that allows students to take up to one half of their academic day from an online provider (or, as in the case of our son, several online providers).  Providers that want to be a part of the public education (as opposed to being tuition based and requiring families to pay for the classes) in Minnesota must apply to the Department of Education for approval.  A rigorous process requires them to prove their worth by providing information about their curriculum, including how they teach the content area standards, attendance policies, interaction with students, and how they will fulfill state testing mandates.

    With state public dollars in education comes state department of education oversight, and this is very reasonable.  I am completely in favor of this.  The department of education ran a posting (that ends today…want to apply???) for a new online learning specialist – a position that has been open for over two years, that has been cut from funding a few times in those two years, and that will be a difficult job to take on at this time because of the state legislative audit report released this fall. The job of the department is ensure that the online schools approved in Minnesota offer quality education.  If a school – of any kind – does not offer quality education, it should be questioned. 

    The difference with online schools (even more than charter schools) is that they have to prove their level of quality before they can open their doors.  And they are reviewed more than any other type of school in Minnesota.  Does this seem fair?

    Because of the amount of fine-tooth combing that goes in the approval of online schools before they open, one would assume that the traditional schools (please, please don’t call them “normal”) would see the credits and students from online schools as equals. 

    Not the case. Hence – the headache of this week.

    While some school districts have embraced online education, others have clearly not done so.  It is easy to tell which ones have and which ones have not.  Those who have embraced online education typically partner with an already approved online provider or become an online provider themselves in order to offer the full menu of educational options to their students.  Those who have not continually question the validity of online education and how that can be “real teaching.”  I would assert that it is – when done correctly – very authentic teaching, easier to create differentiated instruction, and has the ability to have more personalized teaching.  As in all good teaching, the teacher-student relationship is really important. 

    So – this week’s headache stems from one too many interactions with traditional schools who think that they are better than online schools.  I do not mind when a school wants to see our course syllabi – that is their right.  I do not mind when a school wants clarification about how the content is paced or even to see how our courses meet standards.  I do mind when people in traditional schools make blanket, sweeping statements about all online schools.  I do mind when people in traditional schools make ill-informed assumptions about online schooling.  The funniest thing to me is when someone who is part of a district that has an online component mocks online as if it is a passing fad that will go away tomorrow. 

    I am not ignorant to the fact that online education is not a cookie cutter that should be applied to all students.  However, there are many students for whom online is perfect and may even be better for their situation. Cutting it down or ignoring it are mistakes on any educator’s part.  The same is true for the population at large. Rather than talk about this as something that is not going to happen, we need to start thinking about how it will happen.  Will there be online aspects of the majority of classrooms someday?  Yes, there will.

    And you can take that to the bank.

    Part of my job as an employee at an online school is to help educate others about online education and its positive aspects.  What I would love to do is to formulate future blog posts from readers’ questions.  Please leave questions in the comment area, and I will attempt to pull together some future blog posts answering those questions.  I have also included logos from a few providers in Minnesota. Click on the logo to go to the provider’s website.

    mvhs logoedvisions logowc logo

    iQ logoblue sky logomnva logoconnection logosocrates logomnohs logo

    1 Comment

    Filed under Uncategorized