- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Maryland Department of Education plans to open an online high school next year that could help solve teacher shortages and enhance every district's course offerings, department officials say.
The Maryland Virtual Learning Community is expected to open in the fall of 2002 with 350 virtual "seats," said Elizabeth Glowa, coordinator of the state's Web-based learning program.
Initially, officials intend to offer physics, calculus and 11th-grade English, as well as Advanced Placement calculus, macroeconomics, U.S. government, literature and composition, Miss Glowa said. She said many districts lack either enough teachers or enough demand to justify offering those courses in individual high schools.
The statewide online high school would synchronize individual districts' efforts, providing a cost-effective program.
"One teacher can teach class to students at other schools online or at home," Department of Education spokesman Ron Peiffer said.
Miss Glowa said the project's goals include reaching out to homebound and hospitalized students, but she said that population is tiny compared with those who attend school but want or need classes the school isn't equipped to offer.
Most of the online classes would be taken at school, she said.
Officials said the project is not aimed primarily at home-schooled students, a group that state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has said the department needs to reach. Maryland had about 17,000 home-schooled students last year, compared with 850,000 public-school students, according to the education department.
Ten Maryland school districts used Web-based courses last year, including Calvert, Montgomery and Prince George's counties. In Montgomery, 100 students took an online course in the computer-programming language C++, because the district didn't have enough teachers to meet student demand.
Miss Glowa said online classes are offered in high schools in 26 states.
"It's not up-and-coming, it's here," she said.
Keith Oelrich, president and chief executive of Apex Learning Inc., a private supplier of advanced-placement courses, estimated that 30,000 of the nation's 16 million high school students have taken an online course.
Apex is among the companies whose classes Maryland is considering offering on the Virtual Learning Community. The largest private provider of Web-based classes, Apex has contracts in 23 states.
Miss Glowa and members of a steering committee are reviewing courses developed by private companies to make sure they meet state standards. At first, the state will contract with those companies to offer the classes. By 2004, the state wants to develop its own courses.
One barrier online education has faced elsewhere is teachers who are reluctant to turn over the instructional responsibility to a private entity.
Lissa Brown, assistant executive director of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said the state's teachers want to give it a chance.
"Online instruction is never going to replace in-person, teacher-student learning," she said. "But it can be a wonderful complement to the more traditional delivery systems. We're open to new ideas."


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