JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a study Thursday that found the Show-Me-State could do a lot more to foster opportunities for online learning for students in grades K-12.
John Watson from Colorado-based Evergreen Education Group co-authored the study and found the current public offerings in Missouri are geographically restricted or require tuition payments. Watson told KOMU 8 News Thursday that Missouri could fall behind other states that choose to open up new digital options.
Watson said easily accessible on-line course offerings could help students in underachieving school districts like the Kansas City school district.
"Right now in Missouri students' opportunites are determined by where they live, by their zip code," Watson said. "And that doesn't have to be the case in the 21st century."
At Jefferson City Academic Center (JCAC), the district's alternative high school, students complete remedial courses through an on-line vendor that the district works with.
JCAC student Aubrey Sluyter told KOMU 8 News he has taken several courses on-line, and the biggest advantage is being able to move at his own pace.
"With the on-line content you can read through it and if you don't find the answer you can always ask for help and it's just nice," Sluyter said. "It's a good way to get credits up if you don't want to do a teacher taught class."
JCAC Principal Deanne Fisher said today's students seem to enjoy online courses because they have such a deep-rooted connection with technology. Fisher said online courses have worked for a lot of students when they are paired with regular classroom instruction.
Watson said policy-makers often ask if students are really able to learn better on-line, but he said that thought does not even occur to students who have grown up wired all the time.
"Students who are 8,10,15 years old don't wonder how somebody can learn on-line," Watson said. "It's very natural for them. It's getting the adults familiar with the concepts."
Fisher said although online courses help, school districts should not rush to use them too much. She said regular instruction is still best with a subject like math, in which a student can get regular feedback.
Watson found Missouri has several challenges with its currrent patchwork of online course offerings.
The study found that many underachieving students aged 16-21 in Missouri need an alternative path to graduation, and more online courses can help them catch up. Watson added to this, saying students who want more challenges like advanced placement courses have few options if the course is not offered by a regular instructor at his or her school.
The study also found students in rural areas in Missouri do not have as many online options as those in urban areas.
The study also found Missouri students are either not allowed or are not able to take courses from an out-of-district-provider.
The study pointed to a currently available program called the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MoVIP).
DESE established the program in 2007 as a series of online course offerings for students in grades K-12 statewide and the classes were offered for free. Enrollment soon soared to 16,000 students.
In 2010, the legislature cut the program's funding and it became tuition based, with each course costing $300. Enrollment dropped by 82 percent the following year.
The study makes several policy recommendations, including requiring all school districts to pay for their students' coursework if they take MoVIP courses.