This past week, it came to my attention that there is a small group of legislators who are mounting an initiative to (once again) ban virtual schools in our fair State. This seems to be a backlash from the documented failures of commercial providers' efforts in Tennessee, as noted in the following Google search results for "Tennessee Virtual School:"
- www.wsmv.com/.../for-profit-virtual-school-drawing-ire-of-tn...ShareSep 3, 2012 – Virtual schools are a relatively new, but a growing option, for education across Tennessee. Metro Schools started a public virtual school in 2010 ...
Aug 31, 2012 – A Chattanooga senator is pressing for an inquiry into the for-profit Tennessee Virtual Academy after seeing test scores he describes as 'dismal..."While these news and blog posts seem to point to a failure of online learning in our state, I want to go on record to suggest that Senator Berke and others would be doing a total disservice to the future of education in Tennessee to revert to the past prior to 2010, when it was against the law to educate students online. At MNPS Virtual School, the first official virtual Public School in our State, we have been tirelessly working since 2009 to craft sets of policies, processes, and courses that not only work for students, but that provide in many cases more rigorous, more challenging, and more academically engaging educational experiences for students than those available in bricks and mortar classrooms, be they public or private or in homeschool situations.
Our Principal, Dr. James Witty, comes to us from an accomplished career dedicated to Alternative Education. As stated on our school's "Administration and Staff" page, Dr. Witty ",,,brings a wealth of experience and expertise in nontraditional educational methods. He most recently managed more than 60 educational reform initiatives for Metro Schools as the Race to the Top Grant Manager for MNPS. Previously, he served as the Director of the Center for Dropout Prevention, creating and launching a resource center for the Tennessee Department of Education. Dr. Witty also has expertise in out-of-school learning, previously serving as a Director for Extended Learning for the Murfreesboro City School District."At ISTE 2009 in Denver, Colorado, Dr. Kecia Ray, MNPS Executive Director for Instructional Technology and now incoming ISTE President, approached my dear wife Lee Ann on the veranda of her sister's historic Denver home during a party, looked her in the eye and told her "I'm going to steal your husband." She clarified that she intended to "steal" me away from my 14 year career at University School of Nashville to help her make her vision for online learning work for our school district's 80,000+ students. Along with Coordinator Barbara Thoeming, I began this labor of love within the month. We nurtured options along as a program with a small dedicated team until laws changed, we became a School, and Barbara moved along elsewhere in her career, making room for Dr. Witty to come on board, similarly walking away from his own successful and contributive career to help turn vision into reality.As of yesterday, we are serving right at 700 individual class "seats" to our students with a staff of 5 full-time professionals and 25 Adjunct Teachers. We offer a new paradigm of accountability with our "Performance = Attendance" policies. We have in place a communication system of "Performance Concern" which supports students in a timely and effective manner through communication with parents, school counselors, and students. We underscore every module in every online course with a "Discussion Based Assessment" graded in accordance with a rubric made available to students even before they sign in to their course for the first time. This DBA is simply a structured (telephone or Skype call) conversation between instructor and student about the learning they have just mastered. We offer 24/7 online tutoring to many of our students via Grade Results. Our teachers deliver regular tutoring opportunities in our Thomas W. Hatfield Student Success Center up until 5 pm after school on a regular basis. We provide in-person orientations for teachers, students, and parents, supported by separate 50+ page handbooks for Full-Time and Part-Time students. We are continually evolving in the spirit of student support and accountability. We rock.
Thomas W. Hatfield Student Success Center at MNPS Virtu@l SchoolCome see us, Senator Berke: We are open for the business of learning and teaching. Please don't throw out our baby with your bathwater.