+ Graduation? Online Options for Making Up Credit

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Some high schools are turning to online courses to help faltering students nake it to graduation, according to Andrew Trotter’s article in Education Week.

If credits are lacking, remedial lessons and summer school have been the traditional ways to make them up.  But technology-based options now exist, and their use is expanding.

“It’s a huge area of growth, especially in the last three years,” says Susan D Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the North American Council for Online Learning, a trade association based in Vienna Virginia.   Her group is preparing a white paper on “promising practices” in credit recovery, to be published this year.

Most credit recovery options are online programs offered by virtual schools and commercial curriculum providers.  According to the providers, they offer individualized, targeted instruction packages.

Right about now, as graduation approaches, students all across the country are working in such classes to cobble together the credits they need.

Kim Feltner, a teacher in charge of the credit retrieval lab at Pine Ridge High School in Volusia County Florida, says  “Right now, my classroom is chaos.  I probably have 30 to 35 seniors who have six days to complete their course in order to participate in graduation ceremonies.  They are in full panic mode.”

Credit recovery, or credit retrieval, is usually defined as an in-school opportunity offered to students who need to earn academic credits that they have lost or are about to lose by failing a regular course.

But an army of online-curriculum companies, such as Apex Learning Inc. and Plato Learning Inc, as well as nonprofit providers such as the Orlando-based Florida Virtual School and the Atlanta-based Georgia Virtual School are offering Internet-based options. 

Such organizations say they tailor learning to individual students by using flexible pacing and schedules, extra practice, frequent assessment, and robust monitoring and reporting on participation and progress.  They say they also allow opportunities for personal interaction with the teachers.

These learning management systems typically have e-mail, online assessments, and databases.  The courses mirror and are cross-referenced to states’ academic standards.

Courses are complete, but in some cases are subdivided into short “learning objectives” that can be pulled out to address gaps in an individual student’s understanding.  In some cases the programs are billed as a way to salvage credit for a class, but also to develop skills and work habits that will contribute to their future academic success.

Why Such Interest Now?

There is a general push to raise graduation rates by many interest groups in higher education, state and local government, and business.

The US Department of Education has recently proposed regulations that would change how districts report graduation data; this may lead to increased scrutiny of those that graduate fewer seniors on time.

Another foactor is financial: districts lose state funding when students drop out or opt into alternative programs outside the district.  The impact on revenues makes districts more willing to enlist outside organizations to provide these credit-recovery services.

Many school districts do not see the credit-recovery services as competition, says Marc Dean Millot, the editor of School Improvement Industry, a newsletter based in Alexandria Virginia.  “If you’re a business and trying to earn revenue, you’d like to do things that the district does not consider competition.  The credit-recovery business is probably the least competitive offering, particularly from the online or virtual school.”

Clayton Christensen, a business professor at Harvard University, sees credit-recovery as one of the most likely areas for technology-fueled “disruptive innovation” to find a foothold in K-12 education, because upstart online-learning providers can address the needs of students and families not being directly met by the local district.

Christensen suggests in a new book that credit recovery may be a proving ground for methods that will be adopted for regular education.

source: Andrew Trotter’s article in Education Week on May 21, 2008.  www.edweek.org

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