Reimagining Education

How can Missouri improve its virtual education program?

Missouri students are finally getting free access to a wide variety of virtual education options ranging from being able to take a single class that is not currently offered in their school to taking a full-time program.

What MOCAP gets right

Missouri’s Course Access Program has a lot to offer Missouri’s students and school districts including:

  • Students in small or rural districts, many of which do not have the capacity to offer higher level courses like calculus or Advanced Placement courses, will finally have access to the courses they need to be competitive as they look toward attending college or entering the workforce.
  • All Missouri students will finally have access to courses that will best meet their individual needs, based on their interests and/or career choices.
  • Any student in the state currently enrolled in a public school can choose instead to enroll in a full-time virtual curriculum. As a result, students who do not do well in a traditional brick-and-mortar school because of health issues, peer pressure or bullying, work or unique circumstances like acting or competing in national sporting events, or a wide variety of other reasons, now have the chance to access a high-quality education from the comfort and safety of their home.
  • Schools can access an a la carte collection of sought after courses at a much lower cost than hiring qualified teachers to teach those courses in each district.
  • Districts can create their own virtual courses (either by themselves or in conjunction with a company like K12) and offer them to the entire state through the MoCAP system and generate additional revenue for their district. 
  • Instructors have real-time access to student assessments and can monitor everything from the amount of time student is logged in to a course to which questions they are missing on a test as they take it.

How to enroll in virtual courses

In order to have your district or charter school pay for your virtual courses, you need to have been enrolled in that school for one semester prior to enrolling in a virtual course. Districts are not required to pay for courses that are in addition to a full schedule of classes.

Private school and home-school students can enroll in virtual courses through MOCAP,  but they must pay for the courses themselves.

Schools can only deny enrollment in a virtual course if they can show “good cause” for why the enrollment would be detrimental to the student’s academic career.

Denials can be appealed first to the building administrator, then to the local school board, and finally to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Better communication needed

Although the new MOCAP program offers students, parents, and schools many benefits, they only improve education in Missouri if families know about them.

The MOCAP website lists information about the program and provides a partial list of providers but it is not currently listing all of the options available for students.

In fact, the most exciting offering, the Missouri Virtual Academy (MOVA), is not listed on the site at all.

MOVA not only offers parents access to a full-time virtual curriculum for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, but it also provided a unique career readiness curriculum for high school students through its Destinations Career Academy program. Through that program, students can choose one of several career pathways (business, health and human services, and information technology) to focus on while also completing the requirements for their high school diploma. As part of the program, students can get hands-on workplace skills, participate in career-oriented clubs/organizations like SkillsUSA, and be prepared to take industry-recognized certifications upon graduation.

School districts are also doing a horrible job of letting parents know about the options their students now have. In St. Louis County, for example, only four out of the 23 school districts in the region provide any information about the program on their homepage despite being required by state law to feature information about MOCAP on their homepages.

Other ways the MOCAP program can be improved

A recent article by Kevin P. Chavous, a national leader on quality online education programs, points our four key things states can do to improve student success in virtual education — all of which would make MOCAP more successful as it grows.

Chavous first points out that online learning is not for everyone and that it takes dedication, computer literacy and an ability to work independently for students to be successful. Missouri should consider some form of guidelines to provide parents and students with orientation information that highlights expectations and makes sure they have the computer literacy to succeed in virtual education.

Chavous’ second point is the need for student engagement. Because students engage in online learning virtually, it is up to the student to log in and participate in the coursework. Chavous recommends allowing a school to withdraw a student from a virtual course if they do not meet the required levels of engagement.

His third point is that teachers of virtual education should be able to teach from anywhere in the country. The reality is that teaching online requires a special skill set to be effective and students would benefit more from teachers who know how to teach in the new medium most effectively than from teachers who have licensure in a specific state. Unfortunately, the current Missouri law requires a Missouri certification which prevents our students from accessing virtual classes from some of the best teachers in the country.

Finally, Chavous points out that states should expand access to virtual education to as many students as possible because students choose virtual education for a variety of reasons. Missouri currently requires a student to attend a public school for a semester before being able to access the program without paying tuition. We should expand this so that every child in Missouri has access to this opportunity!

« Previous Post:

» Next Post: