Michigan Expands Access to Online Education in Public Schools

Michigan, which has been a national leader in online education for more than a decade, has introduced new online learning options in all the state’s public schools. Stating this school year, an estimated 1.5 million public school children in Michigan will have the option to take online classes.

Michigan has opened five new cyber schools, giving students more choices than ever in deciding how they want to take their classes. In addition to these online schools, many traditional school districts are improving their online education systems, according to Lori Higgins of The Detroit Free Press.

Under an amended state law, students in Grades 5-12 will be allowed, with the permission of a parent or legal guardian, to enroll in up to two online courses outside their district during a semester or trimester offered by any district or the state’s virtual school. Students can enroll in any course published in a statewide catalog of online courses maintained by the Michigan Virtual University.

Students will not need permission from their home district to sign up for the classes, and the home district must pay for them — a marked change:

“Previously, students could take up to two classes in their own districts, and the districts would decide whether they would allow their students to take the classes elsewhere.”

Under a provision in state law that became effective June 13, the student’s home district must pay 80% of the cost of the online course upon enrollment. The remaining 20% would be paid upon completion.

The Michigan Department of Education has been expanding its online education programs for several years. Since 2009, the number of school districts and charter schools that have permission from the department to run programs in which students take all or most of their classes online has grown from 12 to 192.

In 2000, Michigan established the Michigan Virtual School for K-12 students. In 2006, Michigan became the first in the nation to require students to have some kind of online experience to graduate from high school.

Some urge caution in the push for more online education, like Michael Barbour, who this month left a post as an assistant professor of instructional technology at Wayne State University. He worries that easing the cap will lead to too much expansion without regard for quality of the programs. Barbour, who said there’s little research suggesting full-time online programs are effective, also worries that too many districts see online education as a way to keep money in their district, and not as a way to provide an option for students they might be struggling with.

“When those decisions are being driven by economics … then that’s a problem,” said Barbour, who is now at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.