Mike Klein Online

HOPE Should Not Become Just Another Government Spending Program

Mike Klein

HOPE, Again:  About those reports that the HOPE scholarship could face a new economic tsunami because so many Georgia kids are qualifying for the full tuition Zell Miller Scholarship:  Really?  Are these kids nothing like the 50 percent who lose HOPE after one school year?  And if we suddenly have so many super smart kids, why do our national test scores still suffer?

New proposals are already being floated to address HOPE financial stability one year after the General Assembly thought it had bought the scholarship program some time.  While all those numbers are being crunched, perhaps someone should look at why more than half lose the scholarship after one year, two-thirds after two years and nearly three-fourths after three years.

HOPE matters.  But HOPE should not become just another government spending program.

Congratulations:  Georgia Virtual School science department chair Asherrie Yisrael has been selected as a finalist for National Online Teacher of the Year.  The award has two sponsoring entities: the Southern Regional Education Board and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Asherrie Yisrael, National Online Teacher of the Year Finalist

Yisrael was honored as the 2010 – 2011 Georgia Virtual School Teacher of the Year.  Her specialties are advanced placement physics, forensic science and physical science.  Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) is the state Department of Education online learning program resource.   It has about 10,000 students who select online courses from a broad-based curriculum.

Thirty-nine online teachers from 26 states were nominated for the SREB – iNACOL award.  The winner will be announced on March 1 during SREB’s virtual learning conference in Atlanta.  Other finalists are Leslie Fetzer from North Carolina and Tracey Seiler from South Carolina.

SREB and iNACOL established the national online teacher award two years ago.  Yisrael is the second Georgia teacher nominated.  Gabrielle Bray of Gwinnett County was nominated in 2010.

School Choice Rally: It’s looking like at least 1,500 will rally for School Choice outside the State Capitol at 10:00am Wednesday.  And perhaps the weather will cooperate — mild and partly cloudy!

Georgia legislators will address alternate authorization for charter schools during the current General Assembly.  The latest negative headlines include Gwinnett County again turning down a charter for Ivy Preparatory Academy whose students have an outstanding academic record, and Fulton County’s rejection of the Fulton Science Academy which was named a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School Award recipient by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Americans for Prosperity Georgia chapter will present screenings of its new film “Making The Grade in Georgia” hourly start at 2:00pm in the Georgia Room of the Twin Towers  office building directly across the street from the State Capitol.  Here is a link with more information.

Georgia Tax Climate:  Wednesday morning the conservative Tax Foundation will release its 2012 business climate index that measures how states compare in five categories: corporate tax, personal income tax, sales tax, unemployment insurance tax and property tax.  Data is based on tax policies as they existed last July 1 when most states began their new fiscal years.

The Tax Foundation ranking is not against any specific baseline.  States can move up or down even if they make no changes because revisions in other states can affect overall rankings.

The Tax Foundation ranked Georgia No. 34 nationally last year.  Foundation economists found 33 states with overall better business tax climates and 16 that were worse.  Georgia tax reform remains a work in progress this year after the 2011 Legislature was unable to enact reform.

Unemployment insurance tax gets less attention than it deserves.  Georgia began to borrow federal funds starting in December 2009 because the state could no longer afford to write unemployment benefit checks.  Georgia owes $721 million in principal plus tens of millions of dollars in annual interest.  Options to find repayment dollars include imposing higher taxes on employers and reducing benefits, which could mean fewer weeks, smaller checks or both.

The Tax Foundation business tax climate index will be released at 10:00am Wednesday.

Yellow Jackets 1, Volunteers 0:   Friday’s announcement that Georgia Tech will become a national tier one university transportation research center means the state made a better case than our nearest northern neighbor.  Tennessee would have located a national think tank at the Center for Transportation Research on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville.

Governor Nathan Deal announced Georgia’s plan to pursue the transportation research center initiative last May when he addressed the state Logistics Summit in Atlanta.  Georgia Tech will coordinate research by seven state universities plus three in Alabama and Florida.  Tech was also named to participate in a regional initiative coordinated by the University of Florida.

Here’s a salute to the Woodruff Foundation that provided essential local startup seed money.  The total investment for two years will be $7 million with half from the federal government.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gwinnett’s New Online Campus High School Prepares for August Launch

Mike Klein

Increasingly, learning happens anytime and anywhere. Georgia’s largest school system will launch an entirely online high school in August.   And the General Assembly might vote next week to create a new statewide clearinghouse for online content supplied by school districts.

Gwinnett County has 42,000 high school students. This fall Gwinnett will launch an Online Campus high school for 125 students with expansion already planned into middle and lower grades. This new school expands an ambitious online program that began eleven years ago.

“Our interest level for online courses has grown over 100% every year,” said Gwinnett associate superintendent Steven Flynt. “If we look at how the online program has grown, we’ve served over 30,000 students. This past year we had over 5,000 students enrolled in at least one class.”

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) predicts 50% of all high school content will be taught online within eight years. “Fast Facts About Online Learning” says online courses are available in 48 states and 27 have statewide full-time online schools.

“Virtual schools are where we are going. I think we all know that,” Georgia state Senator John Albers said during a recent state capitol education committee meeting. “It’s not leading edge anymore. It’s today’s technology. We’ve got to find a way to get kids through school. If they need to work part of the day, they can go to school online at whatever time of day it makes sense.”

Most Georgia public education students … there are 1.65 million … will always remain in traditional classrooms where some will have access to completely online or blended instruction. But faced with high quality competition from online education companies, Georgia districts are starting to put more aggressive emphasis on cyber learning strategies.

Forsyth County opened iAchieve Virtual Academy this year with about 130 online students in grades 6-to-12. Students need high speed internet access and their own computer. Courses are approved by the district and the state. Academy graduates will earn a Forsyth diploma.

Gwinnett is widely respected for innovation. This year the district received the $1 million Broad Prize for urban education excellence from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Christopher Ray is a 17-year veteran of Gwinnett schools, and for the past seven years Ray has been an elementary school principal. Ray was selected as Online Campus high school principal in January. Student applications for the new online high school were due the end of last week.

Ray said now “the real fun begins, looking at the students who will be with us next year, looking at the courses we need to offer. Are there courses that we need to develop before August? There are no problems. There are great opportunities. It’s like a big chess game. If you make one move, what are the implications and the repercussions?”

With 160,000 total students, Gwinnett is the state’s largest system. The number of entirely online students is expected to increase annually. Middle school courses are planned in fall 2012 followed by third, fourth and fifth grade upper elementary online curriculum one year later.

Associate superintendent Flynt described starting the online high school as “getting down into the weeds. You need to look at the concept and the big picture items but you can’t miss the details.” Serious planning began two years ago. Public announcement was held until January, Flynt said, because, “We wanted to make sure we had everything in order.”

Gwinnett will combine state-approved curriculum with courses from Desire2Learn, the Canadian company that is a major online player. Online students will take all state tests that are required for traditional high school students. They will earn a Gwinnett County diploma, no different from the diploma earned by brick-and-mortar students.

Ray said Gwinnett will combine existing school district instructors with adjunct faculty, and most will have previous experience teaching in Gwinnett schools. Instructors will be provided with cell phones so they can maintain pupil contact. Students must provide a computer, but Ray said students who cannot afford one will be assessed for help on an individual need basis.

Gwinnett’s expansion might include an opportunity for its online courses to be used statewide. Lilburn Rep. David Casas introduced legislation to create the Online Clearinghouse Act.

“This opens the door for school choice at a micro-level,” Casas said. “This is so new. The only state that’s doing it is Ohio and they just started so this is front-line stuff, really cutting edge.” Under House Bill 175 any school system could offer its courses to the Online Clearinghouse.

The Clearinghouse would operate inside the Department of Education which manages the Georgia Virtual School. GAVS offers curriculum but not diplomas. About 9,000 students per year use GAVS for advanced placement and other courses not offered in their own schools.  Another 20,000 use GAVS for credit recovery, bringing its total impact to about 30,000 students per year.

The biggest difference between GAVS and the proposed Clearinghouse is where the courses originate: GAVS develops much of its curriculum; the Clearinghouse would use local school district content. HB 175 passed the House and a Senate vote is expected before the session ends next week.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment