More schools going virtual
- By Eric Kulisch
- Oct 18, 2000
Several state education departments and school districts are signing up
for online Advanced Placement courses provided by Apex Learning Inc. as
a first step to creating virtual high schools with an array of course offerings.
This week, Apex Learning announced agreements with Utah and Wisconsin.
In the past two months Michigan, Kentucky, New Mexico, Washington and the
Houston Independent School District — the fourth largest school district
in the country — have partnered with the firm to develop virtual schools.
Bellevue, Wash.-based Apex Learning provides an online learning environment,
10 accredited, highly interactive courses and support services. The idea
is that students can take subjects such as AP calculus if they have a scheduling
conflict in school or if there aren't enough qualified students or teachers
for a school to offer its own AP courses.
Virtual schools can help mitigate the teacher shortage that school districts
across the country are experiencing, said Keith Oelrich, Apex Learning's
president and chief executive officer.
"We give school districts an element of flexibility in planning their
teacher workload that they don't have today," he said. Apex's teacher pool
includes teachers who have retired or who want to stay home with their young
children yet stay involved in their profession, he said.
Each course is designed by AP teachers and includes personalized study
plans, multimedia simulations, online discussions with students and teachers,
readings, and assignments. Students can take the courses during designated
class time, at an after-school computer laboratory or at home.
The company also offers virtual assessment and review materials to supplement
the online courses or regular AP classes taught in schools. Most colleges
will grant credit or waive a course requirement for students who earn a
good AP exam score.
The federal Advanced Placement Incentive Program is among several public
and private grant opportunities states can take advantage of to fund the
virtual AP courses, which cost $350 per student. This school year, the program
has $15 million, with the average award estimated at $375,000, according
to the Federal Register.
Apex Learning was started in 1997 by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul
Allen as a research organization to explore how to use the Internet and
other emerging communication technologies to aid education. The company
predicts it will have 50,000 students enrolled by the end of 2001, Oelrich