High School Regional Academies: Use of Telecommunications and Technology to Expand Learning Opportunities April 2001 Executive Summary

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1 High School Regional Academies: Use of Telecommunications and Technology to Expand Learning Opportunities April 2001 Executive Summary By Pamela Pfitzenmaier Jeannie Campbell Gwen Nagel Iowa Public Television

2 High School Regional Academies: Use of Telecommunications and Technology to Expand Learning Opportunities Executive Summary Regional academies for high school-aged students are quite diverse in their purpose and characteristics. They have developed nationwide due to a wide variety of factors that are traditionally centered around efficiencies in career and technical education, gifted education and education of special needs populations. More recently, these regional efforts have begun to address topics of teacher shortages, equitable opportunities for rural and/or non-traditional students and enhanced opportunities for all students. As new technologies and telecommunications have emerged, the models for regional academylike opportunities have expanded. This report examines the use of telecommunications and technology for regional academies from various perspectives: What s happening in other states in regard to regional academies through the use of telecommunications and technology? What are the current trends in Iowa for regional academy-like opportunities? How do telecommunications and technology play a role in academy-like efforts? What challenges and opportunities are present in Iowa as we expand the scope and participation in regional academies through the use of telecommunications and technology? What s Happening Nationwide? The fastest growing regional academy-like opportunities are via distance learning technologies, especially through Internet based courses or virtual high school opportunities. Based upon recent research conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, no fewer than 71 different virtual high schools/collection of online courses are in existence. States such as Illinois, Maryland, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah, West Virginia, Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana have launched, or are planning to launch, online virtual high schools. These online high schools offer complete courses to students via the Internet. Such courses may be completed by the student in a formal school setting or in a more independent setting, such as at home. Many of the online high schools primarily focus on audiences not currently reached by traditional high school courses. Home schoolers, students in physically remote/rural locations, students in the juvenile justice system, dropouts and advanced students are the likely target audiences for virtual high schools. Because early efforts indicated that high school students had high attrition rates due to the independent nature of online courses, most virtual high schools now actively reach out to students enrolled in the courses through a variety of means. While the online teacher usually is located at some distance from his/her students, a site coordinator (local

3 teacher, local guidance counselor or parent) is identified to monitor the progress of the student enrolled in the courses. The online teacher also utilizes tools such as telephone calls, , videoconferencing and Web tools such as chat and threaded discussion to keep in regular contact with the student. Many of the virtual high schools/online courses create online discussions among other students so the individual high school students do not feel isolated. The term virtual high school is somewhat misleading. Currently, most of the states that sponsor so-called virtual high schools do not offer a separate diploma from the virtual high school. Rather, the state-sponsored virtual high schools have generally started as a collection of online courses with teachers hired/recruited from participating school districts. Local school districts generally have acted as gatekeepers determining which students in their districts may enroll in virtual high school courses and receive credit toward graduation. Of the 71 virtual high schools currently operating, more than half are either for profit or are private/non-public schools. These are more likely to be diploma or certificate-granting entities than are the state-sponsored virtual high schools. Some of these are charter schools (depending upon the charter school legislation in the individual states) or private, nonsectarian, online schools. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction research, these virtual high schools vary in the accrediting organizations to which they have applied and received accreditation. Some private/non-public virtual high schools do not appear to be accredited. Besides the reliance on Web-based courses, other telecommunications and technology solutions exist in other states to create regional academies. In many states, one-way and two-way videoconferencing systems allow students to participate in course offerings beyond the scope of their local high school. In states such as Mississippi, the coordination of such efforts is statewide. Other states such as Pennsylvania leave the sharing of courses as locally arranged among and between school districts without active coordination at the state level. States with newer videoconferencing networks, such as South Dakota, appear to be wrestling with the state vs. local role in creating course and program sharing arrangements. What s Happening in Iowa? A number of factors are influencing the conversation about regional academies in Iowa. With declining enrollments in many of Iowa s smaller, rural schools and an impending teacher shortage in critical areas such as mathematics, sciences and industrial technology, options to expand educational opportunities for students have gone beyond more traditional solutions. The demand for higher skilled workers in vocational areas is also creating a demand for regionally-based centers. Even districts of moderate size cannot afford to house individual programs in areas such as auto maintenance, building and trades and health care. Sharing with other high schools and the community college on a regional basis is more economical for all.

4 While the term regional academy may be new to Iowans, efforts in academy-like initiatives are not new. With the advent of Tech Prep, post-secondary enrollment options and supplementary weighting to encourage school district and community college collaboration, Iowa high school students have benefited from expanded curriculum opportunities for a number of years. Through the use of telecommunications such as the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) video classrooms, high school students are now able to enroll in courses and programs from Iowa community colleges and other school districts without ever leaving their home districts. Hybrid programs that combine frequent local instruction via ICN classrooms with less frequent hands-on learning at a regional center are becoming commonplace for technical programs such as automotive maintenance and repair. Programs that require expensive equipment and specialized staff are likely to be offered at a regional level. On the horizon are Web-based or online courses and programs that will allow high school students to take courses anytime, anyplace. The use of telecommunications expands that reach and removes much of the travel time for students and instructors. In order to provide expanded educational programs to high school students, the state of Iowa stepped up its support. During the 2000 Iowa legislative session, funding for pilot regional academies was appropriated ($10,000 planning grant for each pilot). Through a competitive process, 15 regional academy pilot grants were awarded to consortia of school districts, AEAs and community colleges. These pilots focused on programs such as information technology, visual and communications arts, building and trades, automotive maintenance and repair and health occupations. In addition to more technically oriented regional academies, other pilot academies offered advanced placement courses and academic courses such as foreign languages, statistics and programs for talented and gifted students. These pilot academies will begin implementation during the school year. During the 2001 Iowa legislative session, the bill establishing a budget guarantee for school districts also provided funding incentives for reorganization and for districts housing regional academies (assuming a place-based definition of a regional academy). Recently the Iowa Area Education Agencies completed a study of virtual high schools, including the possible implications for Iowa schools. For a complete copy of the study, see Challenges and Opportunities Based upon the analysis of the current efforts to establish regional academies through the use of telecommunications and technology, there are at least six emerging models. These models vary in their reliance on a regional academy as places versus virtual regional academies. They also vary in their requirements for students to experience education experiences synchronously (at the same time) versus asynchronously (not at the same

5 time). The attached chart Technology and Telecommunications for Iowa Regional Academies: Six Models provides a visual depiction of the variations. The six models include: Reorganization and whole-grade sharing Selective courses at regional locations Place-based instruction with telecommunications ICN video courses Web-based with real-time instruction Web-based through independent study Each of the six models presents challenges to implement and sustain as well as expanded learning opportunities for students There are many unanswered questions about how telecommunications and technology can effectively expand the opportunities that regional academies were designed to provide. How can assurances be given to participating schools, students and their parents that courses developed far from the local community will provide quality education? How can opportunities offered through telecommunications and technology be more than a collection of disconnected courses and instead be well-coordinated programs of study for students? How can the advantages of telecommunications (efficiency, convenience for learners, accommodation of learning styles) incorporate best practice and become even more effective?

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