Michigan Schools to Jump into Online Courses in January

Starting in January 2014, Michigan’s public school students will be able to take online courses offered by the state’s school districts or Michigan Virtual University, a state-sponsored nonprofit offering online instruction to K-12 students.

In 2012, the state’s school law was revised to allow students to take online courses without being granted specific approval from their home district, which will still be responsible for paying fees for the courses. The students, however, will still need permission from their parents to sign up for the classes.

The law also requires that courses should be taught by Michigan-certified teachers.

For the first time, students in grades 5-12 will be able to take up to two online courses per semester as part of their regular school curriculum. Michigan Virtual University (MVU) is currently assembling a statewide catalog of online courses, and the university has requested all school districts to contribute course offerings, writes Jennifer Chambers of The Detroit News.

Jamey Fitzpatrick, president and chief executive officer of MVU, said each district must decide whether the changes are an opportunity or a threat to local school budgets.

“They now have the ability to take their fine teaching staff and their expertise and serve kids in every ZIP code in the state,” he said. “The world is changing at a pretty rapid pace. All you have to do is talk to a 16-year-old. We are not really pushing the envelope — it’s 2013.”

Students are not required to pay for these online courses, and the student’s school district will pay 1/12th of the state’s per-pupil allowance for a semester to the district offering the course or MVU.

This month, students and parents will be able to review course offering and syllabi in the statewide catalog, Fitzpatrick said. Students can search the catalog by subject and online courses can be taken at home or in school, depending on each district’s policy.

According to Fitzpatrick, there is no class-size limit in the law for online courses, but each course will have student-teacher ratios in line with brick-and-mortar schools, ranging from 15:1 to 30:1.

Fitzpatrick was unable to say how many students took online classes through MVU, but since its inception the program has recorded 138,000 course enrollments. About 1,000 Michigan teachers have taken the training for online course teaching, out of 100,000 statewide.

David Mustonen, communications director for Dearborn Public Schools, is not offering online courses taught by its teachers. The district said some it had some students use online education through MVU during the summer and Ramadan when some students were fasting and needed to adjust their schedules.

The law requires school districts to provide students with a link to MVU to search for information on taking online courses.