Kentucky’s 12-year-old Virtual High School program will end later this year as state officials consider a new approach to online education.
The state Department of Education has offered the virtual path to a diploma since 2000, but funding has remained at $800,000 since its inception making the program hard to grow, according to a 2009 report called “Breaking New Ground.” Interest in the program has remained consistent, with around 700 students taking online classes each year, said Bob Fortney, Kentucky Virtual High School program consultant.
Fortney’s job is now shifting from providing online courses, which end after this current spring semester, to finding ways Kentucky’s online education can improve, he said. The department will move from a delivery to an oversight, or gatekeeper role, he said.
There aren’t many e-learning programs in the state and because Kentucky gives local school boards control of curriculum policy, there isn’t much consistency between the programs that exist, he said.
“If you had 400 teachers teaching online across the state with no standards and no quality control would that be a bad thing, and my opinion is probably it would be of concern,” said Fortney.
Jefferson County Public Schools’ eSchool program has offered students online education for years. Many students take recovery courses if they fail a class, but some students use the service when they’re spending a significant time outside the district or if they want to take certain electives that would otherwise cut into general education requirements, said Jana Hickey, elearning specialist for JCPS.
Fortney said there are still several areas of online education where the state can improve, such as certifying online teachers. At this time, districts decide whether to offer classes online, and what those classes include.
“Now keep in mind they have to still look at the same graduation requirements and the number of days and those kinds of requirements that are non negotiable…but how they go about organizing education–those are many times school level decisions that we don’t influence,” Fortney said.
The Department of Education will help students find alternative private online education options after this spring semester while the department continues trying to improve the delivery and diversity of virtual learning for Kentucky students, he said.