Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

An Attempt to Redefine “Educationally Appropriate Online Courses” in Oklahoma

This evening I was scanning new education legislation proposed by Oklahoma representatives and senators in this year’s legislative session on LegiScan, and found Oklahoma Senate Bill 419 which was proposed last week on February 12th. I am NOT “fully” up to date on the landscape of K-12 virtual education options in Oklahoma, but I’m not sure who is in our state. I do know that recent changes to our laws now require public school districts to provide online/virtual education options for ALL students. This is a BIG change, because prior to this 2011 legal change Oklahoma districts were not required to provide ANY virtual education options for students. Current guidelines provided to Oklahoma schools and parents from the Oklahoma State Department of Education are available, including the adopted rules for online/virtual course offerings. I think there are varying interpretations of this law, however, especially when it comes to “what is a supplemental course” and what is “educationally appropriate.” As a result there is a lot of variety when it comes to the virtual school options offered to Oklahoma public K-12 students. For more background and links related to Oklahoma K-12 virtual education, see my recent podcast interview with an Oklahoma City Public Schools student who took a virtual course in Fall 2012: “Podcast398: A Student’s Experiences in Oklahoma City Public Schools Virtual School.” I’m glad to see that podcast has been downloaded over 1400 times so far since it was published on January 22nd.

The proposed language change in Oklahoma Senate Bill 419 (sponsored by Sen Stanislawski and Rep Quinn) is (copied from the introduced bill text):

For the purposes of this section, “educationally appropriate” means any instruction that is not substantially a repeat of a course or portion of a course that the student has successfully completed, regardless of the grade of the student, and regardless of whether a course is similar to or identical to the instruction that is currently offered in the school district;

This proposed legislation differs from the language in current Oklahoma law, however, which is:

For the purposes of supplemental online courses, educationally appropriate means an instructional delivery method best suited for an individual student to advance the student’s academic standing toward meeting the learning expectations of the district and State graduation requirements for the student. The determination of educationally appropriate will be made at local district level.

I interpret this newly proposed language for “educationally appropriate virtual courses” to broaden the definition so more Oklahoma school districts will be required to provide virtual course options. I perceive, but am not certain, that some Oklahoma school districts have used the verbiage “The determination of educationally appropriate will be made at local district level” to exclude many courses and many students from taking virtual courses. If you have insights or opinions on this, I’d love to hear them.

I think requiring Oklahoma schools to provide virtual course options for students makes sense and is a good thing as long as the Oklahoma legislature provides sufficient funding to help schools pay for these costs. There are BIG problems which we should protest vehemently when legislatures ask teachers and school officials to “just do more with less.” See Spencer Weiler’s excellent post about this school finance issue last week on the EdJurist blog, “Legal Obligation Or Moral Imperative?” Spencer noted:

As a result of the 2008 recession, state funding for public education has declined over the last four years. These cuts have come with a cost. Public school officials are being asked to do more to ensure that the organization provides the same services at a reduced expense. However, there are not more hours in the day and educational leaders put in additional effort and time to the point of overwhelming fatigue. Eventually these overworked educators will either say “no” to additional work, and the work will not get done, or they will burn out. Neither option is ideal.

When it comes to these new virtual schooling options in Oklahoma schools, our legislators are not just asking school officials to “do the same things” with fewer dollars, they are asking them to do MORE. And the financial beneficiaries of this are not our professional Oklahoma teacher cadre, by and large, but rather the virtual elearning providers listed on the Oklahoma SDE’s website for “Supplemental Online Course Procedures as “Supplemental Online Course Providers”:

Advanced Academics
Apex Learning
Bridgewater Academy
Cambium Education, Inc. dba
Cambium Education, Inc. dba Lincoln National Academy
Connections Education
E2020, Inc. (now Edgenuity, the OK SDE needs to update their website)
K12, Inc.
The Learning Springs
OdysseyWare, an operating division of Glynlyon, Inc
Osage County Interlocal Cooperative
Plato Learning (offered by Edmentum)

There are important questions to address here, and as we did NOT see when these virtual education law changes were passed through our legislature in 2011, we are NOT (to my knowledge) seeing meaningful public debate about them now. The best summary I’ve seen of where we are and where we’ve been with K-12 virtual education in Oklahoma is the 2012 “Snapshot” of Oklahoma (PDF) from the Keeping Pace website. We ought to be seeing multiple article about this and these issues in the Daily Oklahoman, The Tulsa World, and other newspapers throughout our state. Perhaps I should carve out some time to write some articles and submit them? Someone needs to push these issues forward in the public consciousness so we can have meaningful debate and taxpaying constituents can become better informed about them.

Based on my reading of Senate Bill 419, it sounds like a good idea to redefine “educationally appropriate” in this proposed fashion so more Oklahoma students in public K-12 schools can take more kinds of virtual classes, and districts can’t defend local policies to block students from taking these courses by saying “we’ve determined locally that’s not educationally appropriate.” For example, if a student wants to take Alegebra II from an online provider, but the local school district wants that student to take the class F2F (face-to-face) from a regular classroom teacher in-district, I think it’s GOOD for the virtual option to be made available to the student.

What I think is NOT a good idea, however, is requiring Oklahoma schools to provide virtual education options for students without ANY kind of supplementary funding from the state to offset these ADDITIONAL costs which districts must bear.

Who do you think are the winners in this situation? Hopefully the answer is “students,” but the clearest winners are the 13 corporations on the “approved provider list” for supplementary virtual education courses by the Oklahoma SDE.

It’s a good thing we have some virtual course options available now for Oklahoma students. At least one of my own children is likely going to enroll in a virtual course offered through iOKCPS (outsourced to Connections Academy) next year. It’s a BAD thing that we appear to be allowing education vendors to largely drive the educational legislative agenda in our state when it comes to not only virtual education but also educational technology purchasing more generally. See the April 2012 “news post” linked from the Oklahoma SDE website, “Smarter Balanced and PARCC Issue Guidance for New Instructional Technology Purchases” to understand what I mean by this. The corporations and commercial vendors which will profit the most from mandated online testing required by the Common Core State Standards are now trying to drive technology purchases in our state. Their bottom line is, “What will be best for the million dollar+ online testing systems we’re going to force students in your state to take and your taxpayers to fund?”

Online testing should NOT be the driver for educational technology purchases in Oklahoma, but unfortunately it appears educational vendors are swaying our elected and appointed officials to believe that should be so. We definitely SHOULD follow in the footsteps of Maine and Angus King in adopting a statewide 1:1 learning initiative for students and teachers, but we should NOT race down the 1:1 learning road because we want to please our educational testing overlords who are underwriting the CCSS movement.


Online virtual school providers also seem to be continuing to dominate the legislative agenda when it comes to education in Oklahoma as well. I’m supportive of virtual education options, but NOT supportive of yet MORE UNFUNDED MANDATES for our schools which further drain very limited educational resources away from the classroom and funnel those dollars into the coffers of educational corporations operating in the virtual schooling world.

Not only should the Oklahoma legislature be FUNDING virtual education options for Oklahoma K-12 students, the legislature should also FUND certified facilitators in our Oklahoma schools to work with students enrolled in these courses so their grades don’t look like an inverse bell curve: Mostly A’s and F’s, but few grades in between.

German online: bimodal curvilinear distribution of grades

See my November 2011 post from ODLA, “How to Make Your High School Students Fail Online Courses,” for more on this. If we REALLY care about our Oklahoma students and their academic success, we HAVE to be concerned as taxpayers, educators and parents about more than just the question, “Can my student take this course online?”

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