11.23.11 Minnesota Court Vindicates Blue Sky Online
A Minnesota Law Judge just didn't get it.
They didn't understand why the Minnesota Department of Education had Blue Sky Online in its crosshairs. The education department wanted Minnesota's first virtual high school to close because, it claimed, the school had "engaged in persistent, serious violations of state law, graduated students who did not complete required course work and failed to offer curricula that meet department standards."
Not so fast, a law judge said. In a 48-page ruling, the judge said the state state failed to establish, “by a preponderance of the evidence,” that Blue Sky has a history of major or repeated violations.
According to the MinnPost, the judge’s opinion is not binding. The department may still elect to sever the school’s relationship with its charter authorizer, Novation Education Opportunities. If it does, however, it can expect the school’s administrators to appeal to a higher court.
09.19.11 Audit finds Lower Completion Rates, More Dropouts Among Full-time Online Students
An report by Office of Legislative Auditor has raised concerns about the number of students who complete online classes.
Last year, about 20,000 Minnesota students in kindergarten through 12th grade took at least one online course. Those include traditional school students who took one or two courses online; home-schooled students who took supplemental courses; and students enrolled full time in one of 24 state-approved online schools.
That's still less than 3 percent of all Minnesota school children, but it's four times the number of students who took at least one online course just five years ago.
Legislative Auditor James Nobles focused a large part of his report on the roughly 8,000 students who are in an online school full time.
He found those students are less likely to complete courses they've started, and more likely to drop out of school altogether than students in traditional classroom settings. Two years ago, 25 percent of 12th graders in online schools dropped out, compared to just 3 percent in traditional schools.
Rep. Sondra Erickson, promised to hold more hearing on the report and its findings when lawmakers reconvene next year. Erickson chairs the House Education Reform committee.
"It's the wave of the future, and so we have to determine ... quality, but at the same time flexibility and some autonomy," said Erickson.
02.18.11 Federal Money goes to 10 Minnesota School to Improve Virtual Education Opportunities
Ten Minnesota school districts will share more than $333,000 to improve interactive video technology used in virtual education.
Colleen Landkamer, state director of USDA Rural Development, awarded a federal Distance Learning grant to the 10 central Minnesota school districts which are part of a group called Central Minnesota Educational Telecommunications System (CMETS).
CMETS provides the 10 districts with a blended learning education opportunities in traditional classrooms. During the school day, students go to a classroom in their school building, but they interact with teachers and students from other schools via monitors, cameras and audio equipment.
Officials from the school districts said they will use the grant funds to update the interactive equipment used for virtual education. The money is part of a matching grant program, meaning school districts will have to financially match their portion of the grant.
01.28.11 State Education Agency to Review Online Schools that Get Aid
The Minnesota Department of Education will conduct a review of every online school that receives state aid, according to Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
Cassellius announced the internal review in a statement that also said the department had improperly released private data related to 20 students at BlueSky Online School.
Gov. Mark Dayton requested the review "in light of the news from BlueSky," said his spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci. "Also, as the governor is learning about online schools in general, he asked the commissioner to review the entire program."
BlueSky, a charter school based in West St. Paul, has been under intense state scrutiny over allegations that it has issued diplomas to students who fell short of state graduation requirements.
The review of online schools will help to ensure that they "are fully meeting the academic needs of the students they serve, and to provide full and proper oversight of those schools," Cassellius told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
It's unclear how long the review will take or what changes it might lead to. It will include the state's 24 certified K-12 online learning providers. More than 8,000 students were enrolled in those programs in 2009, according to the state.
The legislative auditor's office said last spring that it would review online learning programs to determine whether they give students more opportunities and what state officials do to make sure the programs are high-quality. That report has yet to be completed.
The improperly released student data, which included academic transcripts, were given to an "unauthorized individual" on Nov. 2, 2010. That's the same day a department news release threatened "crippling fines" against the school if BlueSky officials could not prove they were following state law.
Students who had their information released were notified. To prevent future mistakes, the department has also tightened internal policies on how they respond to requests for public data.
03.01.10 Minnesota Legislative Auditor Proposes Review of State's Online Schools
In a memo to the state legislature, officials in the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor proposed launching an independent review of the state's online schools.
"We would use surveys and site visits of online learning providers to evaluate MDE (Minnesota Department of Education) oversight, as well as the programs provided," according to the memo.
Additionally, the auditor's office memo stated, it wanted to find out "to what extent does the Minnesota Department of Education ensure, through its approval process and review of curriculum challenges, that online learning schools provide high quality and adequately rigorous courses?" It also wanted to ascertain "what are the costs associated with online learning?"
The Minnesota Department of Education "currently dedicates a portion of one supervisor’s time to oversight of online learning programs. MDE once employed a full-time online learning coordinator, but the position is currently vacant," the auditor's memo added.
"An evaluation of K-12 online learning could provide useful information regarding a small but growing Minnesota education program," the memo concluded.
Minnesota does not have a state-led virtual school. It does have a state-led online initiative called the Minnesota Learning Commons.
Minnesota does have virtual charter schools that offers courses to students throughout the state.
Minnesota has many district-level, online charter schools, and multi-district distance learning programs.
In the 2009-2010 school year, 8,248 Minnesota students were enrolled in full-time, virtual-learning programs, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
Minnesota provides general education revenue for online students. For students taking online courses from the district in which they are enrolled, funding is the same as if the students were taking all their courses in physical classrooms. For students taking online courses outside of their enrolling district, the online learning program receives a percentage of basic revenue.