ED: Online courses are key to supplementing instruction

Online courses and other technology-based programs will play a key role in helping educators meet new requirements for supplemental services under the No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) told school leaders during a nationwide conference June 13-14. But while many administrators were satisfied by ED’s guidance, others said the department left questions unanswered.

The ED-sponsored event, “Serving all Schoolchildren and Increasing Options for Parents,” brought more than 300 school decision-makers together in the nation’s capital to listen, share suggestions, and ask questions about the Bush administration policy, which now holds all schools accountable for ensuring that students achieve “adequate yearly progress” (AYP).

Beginning this fall, schools that do not meet proposed standards for progress for two consecutive years will be required to provide transfer options and state-approved supplemental services to low-income students—determined by students’ poverty status on Census reports—until such strides are made, according to department officials.

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in several work sessions and panel discussions, including “Using Technology to Expand Opportunities for Supplemental Service.” The hour-long presentation served as a precursor to an address by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and provided several examples of how schools should look to the internet for federally acceptable supplemental service providers.

Julie Young, executive director of the Florida Virtual School, told attendees that online services are ideal as supplemental programs because they promote parental integration and allow easy access to information, which can be used to track the progress and achievement of children.

According to Young, the Florida program lets parents read progress reports, view work, check up on assignments, and monitor learning by way of online profiles.

“Imagine, if you will, every parent can be in every classroom everyday,” Young said.

The Florida Virtual School offers online classes to students in grades 8-12 and is free to students throughout the state. The school projects it will enroll more than 8,000 kids in the upcoming year. While students cannot earn a diploma, they can take part in more than 66 classes taught by 70 different state-certified teachers, Young said.

What’s more, technology-based supplemental service programs allow for increased database management and tend to yield quicker results, the presenters said.

Mike Williamson, chief academic officer for HOSTS Learning, said technology and database management systems are critical as schools move toward greater accountability, because supplemental services must accomplish a lot in what amounts to no more than 16 hours of instruction.

“You need to reduce the amount of time it takes to aggregate, sort, and analyze data quickly. We need to get through the data challenge so that each teacher can teach each child,” he said.

ED officials said they were optimistic that schools would be able to find a number of acceptable, high-quality supplemental service providers through technology-based and online channels.

“What the power of the internet offers is the ability to tap into literally the best instructors, the best supplemental service providers, the best tutors from all around the country and all around the world,” said John Bailey, ED’s director of education technology.

While several educators found the session on technology-based services helpful, there was obvious disagreement about ED’s ability to provide clear, concise answers to more specific policy-related questions.

“It’s very frustrating to states that [ED] really has no firm guidelines,” said Bob Bonner of the Georgia Department of Education.

Bonner said many of the federal guidelines established at the conference were too broad. States are at a disadvantage because local educators are not sure if the strides they have made toward compliance—including the providers they have selected—will be approved when final requirements are released in August, he said.

Bonner’s comments came just days after Secretary Paige released a letter outlining the major provisions of the new service requirements and imploring educators to begin planning for the changes immediately.

Rodney Watson, assistant superintendent for the Louisiana Department of Education, said, “Clearly, there are some things that have yet to be worked out on the federal level.”

Watson said it’s doubtful that all of the nation’s schools will be able to integrate approved supplemental service programs by September.

“The biggest issue still is the time it will take to implement all of these services,” he said. “It’s going to be a real burden.”

But Watson acknowledged that he knew more about the latest requirements when he left the conference than when he arrived.

“They answered some big questions,” he said of ED officials. “I think the secretary’s letter was sort of the light switch going off.”

Sarah Hall, Title I coordinator for the Maryland Department of Education, agreed. “It certainly expanded my understanding of the policy,” she said of the conference.

Hall cautioned educators that it is difficult for ED to release school-specific federal guidelines because education systems vary widely from state to state.

“We have to remember that there are 50 different entities implementing these services. We are all unique,” she said. “At least now we all have an accountability system that is moving toward compliance.”

Eric Madsen, an education administrator for Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development, echoed Hall’s sentiments. “They are trying to help us where they can,” he said. “It’s very complicated.”

ED told conference attendees that new supplemental service requirements are only part of the department’s plans to educate 100 percent of America’s youth within the next 12 years.

“Our goal isn’t to educate some of these kids. Our goal is to educate all of them,” Paige said. “We are at the beginning of an education revolution.”


School Technology Buyer’s Guide

  • Company Search on “HOSTS Learning”

U.S. Department of Education

Sec. Paige’s Letter

Parents’ Guide to Supplemental Services

Florida Virtual School

Georgia Department of Education

Louisiana Department of Education

Maryland Department of Education

Alaska Department of Education and Early Development

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