Oklahoma City district to open online school

Oklahoma City Public Schools is launching a free online school. The district expects about 700 students to enroll. Educators expect to see a boom in online education in the fall now that rules have been established requiring every school district to offer online courses.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: July 9, 2012

Oklahoma City Public Schools will open the doors to a new school this fall, and as many as 700 students could enroll.

But the doors are digital. The classrooms aren't in a building.

The district is opening a virtual school, a project that has been in the works for more than a year. The new school will be called Innovations K-12 Virtual Institute.

“This is something that can really help a lot of students,” said Verna Martin, associate director of secondary schools for the Oklahoma City district.

Starting this fall, state law requires all school districts to provide online courses when it's educationally appropriate.

Growing popularity

In Oklahoma, online learning is growing in popularity.

About 4,500 Oklahoma students took online courses in the 2010-11 school year, according to Evergreen Education Group, a national education consulting firm.

That's up from about 2,500 the year before and 1,100 the year before that.

The popularity of online education has grown since its inception in the 1990s, said Eric Hileman, executive director of information technology at Oklahoma City Public Schools. Hileman's previous job was the director of instructional technology for the state Education Department.

Online education equals the playing field between small school districts and large ones, rural districts and urban ones, Hileman said.

Now, anyone can take Mandarin Chinese or Newtonian physics, even in districts that can't fill a classroom to justify a teacher's salary.

“They are allowed to compete and equalize their opportunities because of Web-based learning,” Hileman said. “It's an equalizer.”

The key to success, though, is face-to-face interaction, Hileman said.

“It's absolutely essential that you have a counselor or school liaison to check and make sure that those kids are on target,” he said. “You're going to have those kids who do it in 14 weeks instead of 18 weeks. But you're going to have those kids who get behind and can't catch up.”

In Oklahoma City, Martin said every enrollment decision must be done with care and include parents, educators and the student.

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