Saturday, March 29, 2008

Virtual High School at work in Nevada

When 18-year-old Matt Sosa graduates this spring, he will do so without having attended even one class at a bricks-and-mortar high school. Instead, he's spent the past four years downloading his teachers' lectures onto his home computer, participating in group discussions via live chat rooms and e-mailing his homework. Sosa will be the first graduate of the Clark County School District's Virtual High School to complete grades 9-12 through the program.

Virtual learning isn't for every student, Sosa said. "You may spend less time in class, but it takes a lot more dedication," Sosa said. "You can fall behind so quickly. You don't have a teacher there every day telling you to get stuff done. It takes a certain level of self-discipline."

The School District has offered "distance education" classes since 1998. For some students, it's a way to take a specialized class that isn't offered at their home high school, such as Advanced Placement German. For others, the program gives them a chance to catch up on missing academic credits to graduate on time. The district launched its Virtual High School in 2004, offering students a chance to enroll full time rather than for just a class or two. The first diplomas were handed out the following spring.

When Sosa signed up, he figured it would be a short-term solution, a way to keep up with his classes while recovering from leg surgery. When he was a sixth grade honor student at Sig Rogich Middle School, he had to have a tumor the size of his fist removed from his leg. Surgeons inserted metal pins and plates to hold his femur in place while it healed and grew. Sosa was told he would need another operation in about two years to remove the metal. His mother worried about him attending an overcrowded high school, where jostling crowds could have caused a disastrous injury.

When they discovered the Virtual High School had just "opened its doors," Sosa "was just in awe" that the option was available, he said. "I thought I would have to go to a regular high school and tough it out." He ended up staying in the program because he concluded it was the best fit for his learning style. "If you're a morning person, you can get your work done then," he said. "If you're a night owl like me, you can do it late. It's all up to you."

Virtual High School has about 650 part-time students and 150 full-time students, including the 30 seniors expected to graduate this year. The program is popular with students for whom the traditional high school schedule is problematic, including elite athletes, professional actors and teen parents. "Our students can travel anywhere and keep up with their studies," said Essington Wade, Virtual High School's principal. "We are open 24/7."

Although Virtual High may not be well-known, it's not without competition. Odyssey Charter School, sponsored by the Clark County School Board in 1999, currently has about 1,400 students enrolled in grades K-12. Teachers visit Odyssey's K-7 students at home once a week, while students in grades 8-12 are required to attend weekly classes on campus.

Two state-sponsored virtual charter schools, Nevada Connections Academy and Nevada Virtual Academy, opened in August. Both have contracted with out-of-state commercial education companies for online curricula and services. Buoyed by aggressive marketing campaigns, enrollment at both schools quickly reached capacity. Students are provided with most supplies, including home computers and microscopes for science projects.

Virtual High lacks the funds to compete with the newcomers when it comes to promotion. But Wade said he's doing what he can to raise the program's profile. He points to Virtual High students' strong academic performance on standardized tests and the solid pass rate on the high school proficiency exam. He's hoping to see more applicants for the fall semester. Students interested in enrolling full time are interviewed and their academic records are reviewed. Poor attendance histories are considered red flags, but even those students may be admitted for a probationary period because the school was intended to help students who haven't flourished in the traditional environment...

Sosa knows about a dozen of his virtual classmates, but talks regularly with only a few of them. Virtual High students are eligible to participate in activities at their home high schools, and Sosa plays cello in Sierra Vista's orchestra. That's been an important social network for Sosa, who admits that virtual learning can get a little lonely. The isolation "is one of the main issues facing Virtual High School," Sosa said. "The Student Council is working on it." Is he on the Student Council? "I am the Student Council," Sosa says, then laughs.

His academic course load is ambitious this year. He's taking honors American literature as well as Advanced Placement biology, and has already passed the Advanced Placement exams for English composition and economics. Perhaps most important, Virtual High School has prepared him well for college, he said. Sosa scored a 33 out of a possible 36 on his college entrance exam, has been accepted by UNLV and is planning on a career in medicine.

He says he doesn't have any regrets about skipping the traditional high school experience. The glimpse he gets attending orchestra practice is enough for him. Sometimes when he passes a classroom, he sees students slumped in their seats, passing notes and goofing off. "You're there to learn," Sosa said. "Why waste your time and the teacher's time like that?"


Higher Education in Minnesota

We learned yesterday that veterans of the United States Army and Marine Corps who have fought for their country and have been awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, the Navy Cross and other decorations are too controversial to be allowed inside a public high school in Minnesota. Some of those high school students, whose tender sensibilities needed to be protected from America's vets, will go on to attend Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota.

SMSU is a public, taxpayer-funded institution, just like Forest Lake High School. Forest Lake students who go there will be safe, no doubt, from whatever dangers are posed by touring veterans who want to talk about their experiences in America's armed forces. But they will be able to participate in programs like this one:
The 15th annual Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies Spring Conference will be held April 2-4 on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University. This year's conference is entitled "Dakota People, Minnesota History and the Sesquicentennial: 150 years of Lies" and kicks off April 2 with a 7 p.m. address by Waziyata Win (Dr. Angela Cavender Wilson), a member of the Upper Sioux Community in Granite Falls and a historian from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

The Sesquicentennial, if you missed the reference, is the 150th anniversary of Minnesota's statehood. Minnesota joined the union in 1858, just in time for its young men to participate, with rarely equalled heroism, in the Civil War. It appears, though, that the Sesquicentennial "celebration" will be hijacked by the Left, and won't be a celebration at all. Rather, it will be an opportunity to teach Minnesota's young people about the alleged "crimes" of their ancestors, chief among which was defending themselves against a series of spree killings unleashed by violent elements of the Dakota population in 1862. The SMSU program is just one of many instances of this hijacking:
Thursday, April 3 (SMSU Conference Center and Bellows Academic Commons)

8:30 a.m.: Gaby Tateyuskanskan, Dakota, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate

10:30 a.m.: David Larsen, Jr., Bdewakantunwan Dakota, Lower Sioux Community, Morton, Minn., "The History of U.S. Racism."

Here is the piece de resistance:
7 p.m.: Dr. Ward Churchill, genocide scholar, "Genocide and the Dakota People"

So Ward Churchill--fake Indian, fake academic, two-bit leftist hate peddler fired by the University of Colorado for academic fraud--is now calling himself a "genocide scholar!" I'm guessing, though, that he won't be talking about the genocide that the Dakota carried out, pretty successfully, against the Pawnee.

It would be interesting to know how much Churchill is being paid for his appearance, and whether Minnesotans' tax dollars are paying the tab. As a Minnesota taxpayer, I have a personal interest in the question. Be that as it may, the contrast couldn't be starker: in Minnesota, our decorated veterans are unwelcome in public educational institutions, whereas demonstrably fraudulent charlatans like Ward Churchill are welcomed with open arms. As long as they are anti-American.


Britain's socialists make "1984" look libertartian

A new national [British] curriculum for all under-fives risks producing a "tick-box" culture in nursery schools that relies too heavily on formal learning and not enough on play, teachers' leaders will claim today.

The new Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS), which becomes law in the autumn, lays down up to 500 developmental milestones between birth and primary school and requires under-fives to be assessed on writing, problem solving and numeracy skills. It will apply to about 25,000 nurseries, plus registered childminders in England.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that it was not yet clear how the early years curriculum would be evaluated by the schools inspectorate Ofsted. He said, however, that there was a danger that teachers could allow compliance with the new framework to become more important than creativity. "The curriculum itself is not the danger," he said. "The danger is that external examiners will develop a tick-box attitude to every aspect of the curriculum to see if staff have done it." He added that the worst thing for the early years curriculum would be for it to be a "compliance curriculum".


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