LEAD & MANAGE MY SCHOOL
Innovations in Education: Connecting Students to Advanced Courses Online
December 2007
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Michigan Virtual High School

Lansing, Mich.


School Profile: Selected Variables a

Year Initiated 2000
Initiator Michigan Virtual University
Types of Courses Offered APb
Core
Electives
Number of Courses Currently Offered 110
Total Enrollments Since Inception 26,700

a These data are reported by the school and are for the school year 2006–07.
b Advanced Placement

In 2000, a transition from the Michigan Virtual Automotive College, a vocational training environment dedicated to the needs of the Big Three automakers, to the Michigan Virtual University (MVU) yielded what is now the Michigan Virtual High School (MVS). Then, in 2006, six years after MVU received an $18 million grant to build an online high school, Michigan became the first state to require all students to complete an online class in order to graduate from high school. Starting with the class of 2011, Michigan high school students will need to have had an online learning experience in order to graduate from high school.

MVU serves as the nonprofit parent company for three distinct educational enterprises: MVS, Michigan LearnPort (an online professional development program for teachers), and Michigan Career Services (a career exploration resource for students). Driven by a desire to increase access and equity, MVS offers students across the state opportunities to complete courses in core areas, take AP classes, learn languages, and undertake electives otherwise unavailable.

In 2005–06, about 7,200 students from 350 Michigan schools enrolled in MVS classes. MVS classes are asynchronous (i.e., when people are not online at the same time) and follow one of four models: Flex, Semester-Paced, AP, or Student-Direct. Under the Flex plan, students elect a start date anytime from early-September to mid-October and have up to three months to finish the course. While there are no set deadlines, course instructors offer guidelines to pace students. Semester-Paced courses follow the academic calendar, and students must complete assignments by and take exams on scheduled dates. AP classes adhere to the goals and curricula articulated by the College Board program. Student-Direct courses allow students to enroll in the class at any time during the year and give students three instructional months to complete the class offered by a third-party course provider, PLATO Learning. These self-paced courses do not have course instructors but are facilitated by the local school, and moving through them is contingent on completing each module with an end-of-module test score of 80 percent or better.

Student-Direct classes are the least expensive of MVS's offerings, at $129 per enrollment, while AP classes are the most expensive at $350 per enrollment. Both Flex and Semester-Paced courses cost $275 per enrollment. MVS allows Michigan schools to purchase AP, Flex, and Semester- Paced classes in bulk. For 10 enrollments, the AP classes cost $3,250 and the Flex and Semester-Paced classes cost $2,500. There is no bulk rate for Student-Direct classes.

In addition to partnering with PLATO Learning to offer the Student-Direct classes, MVS works with the Confucius Institute at Michigan State University (CI-MSU) to teach Mandarin Chinese classes; partners with Apex Learning, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), and the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, who all serve as third-party course providers of AP classes; licenses AP exam reviews in 11 subjects from FLVS and Apex Learning; and collaborates with another third-party provider, Bridges Transitions, to supply a review course for a portion of the Michigan Merit Examination and the American College Test (ACT). Any student planning to take an AP test may enroll in the AP exam review class at no cost as a part of the AP course tuition; non-MVS students pay an enrollment fee of $25. Likewise, any student can enroll in the Michigan Merit Exam/ACT preparation course, which prepares students for both exams; the Michigan legislature has appropriated funds to make the class free to Michigan students in 2006–07.

Student Recruitment and Enrollment

MVS markets itself to schools in person, through the mail, and on its Web site. The provider hosts annual regional conferences for the schools most active with MVS, at which it introduces new policies and requests feedback about the prior year in order to improve its offerings. Marketing staff attend 12–15 education conferences each year to promote MVS opportunities, while regionally based part-time "ambassadors" visit and call schools in their assigned area. Ambassadors also serve as liaisons between school site coordinators and MVS. Ultimately, the school site coordinators, usually school guidance counselors, oversee the online education at their school and work with students to determine how MVS can best serve their academic goals.

Eight MVS staff members are responsible for marketing, enrollment, and business management. Of this group, two serve as enrollment specialists who can assist school counselors or site coordinators with the online enrollment process. MVS provides schools with an Online Learner Orientation Tool, an informal online quiz that helps students evaluate whether they are ready for online learning. The quiz also can be used as a conversation starter between students and guidance counselors. Once a student is enrolled, a school has 25 calendar days to decide whether the student should remain in the class. If the student or school decides that dropping the class is the best move, schools can retain the enrollment for future use.

Course Offerings

MVS offers courses in all of Michigan's required credit areas for high school graduation. MVS develops the courses in collaboration with Michigan teachers and ensures that courses meet both the Michigan Curriculum Framework and national standards (e.g., National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] curriculum frameworks, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language standards). Enrollment in foreign language classes has accelerated recently, and MVS has begun marketing its Chinese class nationwide to generate additional enrollments.

At its inception, MVS offered AP courses to high schools at no cost, but schools were generally skeptical of online learning. As awareness of the benefits of AP classes in general and comfort with online learning grew, so, too, did enrollment in these classes. In 2002, a highly discounted subscription model was introduced, and AP enrollment reached its highest level. However, subsequent reductions in state funding for MVS made it necessary for MVS, in turn, to reduce the amount of subsidy it was providing to member schools, effectively raising school enrollment costs. Although enrollment has since declined slightly, MVS hopes to expand its AP catalog, ideally with courses developed by Michigan teachers.

Instruction, Mentoring, and Support

MVS has a pool of 180 teachers, all certified in Michigan, who have completed its four-week online instructor-training program and, thus, are eligible to teach online classes. Last year, 70 to 80 teachers from the pool contracted with MVS as part-time instructors. The MVS instructional manager oversees department chairs (who mentor new teachers and help ensure consistency between courses within a content area) and all of the MVS instructors. Instructors who help develop courses and teach the first section of a course become informal "lead teachers" who help subsequent instructors understand the course design and course delivery.

Each student has a school-based mentor (a certified teacher) who supports the student, monitors progress, and facilitates communication between the student and the online instructor. the MvS contract stipulates that its instructors will respond to student and site coordinator e-mails within 24 hours, grade assignments within 48 hours, and grade tests within 72 hours. the MvS database tracks student activity, logs the amount of time students spend on tasks, and retains progress reports, all of which can be accessed by the student, teacher, parent, and mentor.

The vice president of operations leads the MVS digital services group, which supports the necessary technology. MVS-developed courses are delivered through the Blackboard platform, a platform being the Web-based framework for running software and other Web-based tools. MVS maintains a help desk Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Funding

An initial $15 million grant from the state of Michigan in 2000 funded the creation of MVS, along with its operations and services for two years. During this time MVS provided all online products and services to Michigan's K–12 community at no cost. Since then, legislative appropriations for MVS, which have ranged from $750,000–$2,000,000 annually, have covered part of MVS's operating costs. In 2002, MVS introduced a tiered-pricing model, in which subscriptions were based on the size of a district's student population. Under this subscription model, schools still profited from highly subsidized pricing for courses and services. But in 2004–05, in response to a decline in state funding, MVS had to reduce its subsidization of courses and instructional services, moving to a per-enrollment pricing model. With state funding reduced, MVS found it necessary to make this change in order to cover its own costs, chiefly, teacher compensation, courses licensing, and software licensing. Although MVS still provides a highly competitive per-enrollment tuition for schools, the changed pricing structure has negatively and disproportionately affected small schools, which had utilized the more greatly subsidized pricing of earlier years to enroll significant numbers of students.


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Last Modified: 10/05/2009