Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Computer-based school planned for Cincinnati

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Some call it e-learning. Others call it virtual learning.

        Whatever the moniker, Cincinnati Public Schools have a plan to get wired to the phenomenon that is catching on across the nation.

        CPS today plans to unveil details for its first virtual high school open to all the district's high school-age students, including dropouts.

        Virtual learning offers courses online for students to access anytime they have Internet access.

   • What: The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education will hear a presentation on the virtual high school at a committee of the whole meeting.
   • When: 11:30 a.m. today.
   • Where: CPS Education Center, 2651 Burnet Ave., Corryville.
        This spring, CPS piloted a program offering more than a dozen online courses for about 60 students at Taft High School. Based in part on the success of that pilot program, district officials plan to open a separate school with broader course offerings this fall.

        “It's about knowing what the customers want and giving it to them,” said Charter Schools Manager John Rothwell. “We believe our educational program is of high quality. We believe it's our role to provide those services, and we are willing to compete.”

        CPS hopes to initially attract 250 students. Students can opt to take as few as one or nearly all of their courses online.

        For 18-year-old Brian Harris the best part of his virtual high school American history class at Taft was that he could go at his own pace. “If you're doing the work with your teacher, you might get left behind,” he said. “With this, you get time to think it out.”

        The virtual high school isn't the first in the state. In fact, Citadel Group International, an e-learning consulting firm in Loveland, has provided virtual learning programs to about 200 Ohio districts in the last two years.

        However, most districts do not have a component by which students can take nearly all classes online, said Citadel president Greg Berryman.

        “In Ohio today, there are probably less than five (such schools),” he said.

        Most districts, Mr. Berryman said, offer virtual learning to supplement course offerings, to provide an alternative program for kids with discipline problems or as a way to help students make up credits.

        Mr. Rothwell said the district has a duty to offer educational possibilities for all students in the district. When CPS loses students to a virtual charter school or other virtual high schools, the district fails in its mission, he said.

        A key goal of the virtual high school will be to attract the estimated 2,000 students who drop out every year, he said.

        “We believe that every student can get the proverbial A,” Mr. Rothwell said. “Every student can master the content. It's up to us, the educators, to make it happen.“

        The district has also lost students to eCOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow based in Columbus. In March, eCOT was serving 2,779 students statewide — 136 in the Cincinnati Public Schools district — in kindergarten through 12th grades.

        The Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, which has several campuses throughout Greater Cincinnati, also offers a Virtual Academy. Great Oaks just completed its second year of offering online courses and has served 1,206 students from fifth grade and up, said Claire Patterson, Great Oaks' manager of assessment. Of those, 70 percent were making up courses and paid for the classes.

        Kentucky began running a statewide virtual high school in January 2000, allowing students to supplement their high school classes with courses not offered at their home school. Nearly 650 students have been served through that program, according to Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross.

        Some important points:

        • Instructional assistance would be offered at the school site, where students would have access to about 75 computer terminals and eight to ten teachers throughout the day.

        • When the program is fully operational, officials hope the school will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, standard school hours on Friday and a half-day on Saturday.

        • Students who attend the virtual high school will receive a traditional diploma but will also have to take the ninth grade proficiency tests for graduation.

        • The virtual high school's curriculum will be based on the same standards CPS uses in its other courses.

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