Bill requiring online learning amended because of opposition

March 03, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU |

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland currently doesn’t have a requirement that high school students take an online class as a condition for graduation.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he thinks it’s time for such a requirement.

“Hearing from the kids that I have dealt with in Washington County Public Schools system, this is how they want to learn,” Shank said. “It is the type of learning environment that they are accustomed to and this is what they will be expected to do when they get to college and when they move into the work force.”

Shank said that’s why he introduced a bill during the current session of the Maryland General Assembly that would require high school students in the state to complete one online course before they graduate.

But after significant opposition to the bill — which was cross-filed by Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, in the House of Delegates — surfaced, Shank amended it to require the Maryland Advisory Council for Virtual Learning to find out about the resources needed to support a requirement of a compulsory online course in high schools or a course that blended digital content and a traditional classroom learning experience. 

“There were concerns about the graduation requirement,” Shank said. “The amended version of the bill keeps the idea of a graduation requirement and the state starting virtual schools in motion, but it delegates it to the virtual learning council and tasks them with looking at this issue and reporting back to the General Assembly next year.”

Shank said Thursday at a hearing for the amended bill in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that it was important to find out the experience of other states when it comes to virtual schools and similar graduation requirements, according to an electronic transcript of the hearing.

The state’s virtual learning council was created as a result of a bill filed by Shank, and cross-filed by Serafini, during the 2012 session of the Maryland General Assembly. Shank and Serafini are part of the council, which is headed by Lillian M. Lowery, Maryland’s state superintendent of schools.

The original version of the bill filed in this session by Shank was opposed by several state organizations, including the Maryland State Department of Education, Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland, Maryland State Education Association and the Maryland PTA.

“The State Board has traditionally held the role of setting graduation requirements, not the legislature,” Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the department of education, said in an email.

The department, in a letter to the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has suggested a feasibility study be conducted that would look at factors such as cost and availability of trained instructors.

“I think it is important to make this distinction that it’s not opposition to virtual learning,” Shank said. “It is opposition to the way in which this is implemented.”

He pointed to states such as Florida that already have an online requirement for graduating from high school, and said he is excited by current projects at Washington County Technical High School that could be a model for the state.

“Over at Tech High, they are doing some amazing things,” Shank said.

At Tech High

Martin Nikirk, who teaches computer game development and animation at Washington County Technical High School, said his students are researching a possible virtual tutorial course that included building a 3D model of a virtual world.

“While the teacher directs the instruction, online learning may assist in content delivery, student discussion through chat and social media, and content mastery,” Nikirk said in an email.

Online learning helps those who cannot attend “traditional classes,” those who need remediation and those students seeking advanced learning, he said.

Nikirk said his experience has been that online teaching leads to more participation by students in class discussions.

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