States putting AP courses online

Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have enacted a program to offer Advanced Placement courses online for qualified high school students.

The three-year program, called AP Nexus, is a collaboration between the states and Apex Learning Inc., a builder and operator of virtual schools started by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen. The program is funded through the federal Advanced Placement Initiative.

Under the agreement, students who meet academic criteria at schools that do not offer AP courses will be allowed to take the online classes. The courses include Calculus AB, English literature and composition, English language and composition, U.S. government and politics, U.S. history, microeconomics, macroeconomics, physics, statistics and chemistry.

Bill Thomas, director of educational technology for the Southern Regional Education Board (www.sreb.org) said that his organization was critical in bringing the program to fruition, writing grants, procuring equipment and serving as a liaison among the 16 states it represents.

Thomas said that while each of the states liked the idea of putting AP courses online, not everyone was ready to go forth with the initiative.

"Some of our departments of education are grossly understaffed and just couldn't tackle the project right now," he said. "Others already had bustling AP programs and wanted to supplement them with additional funding rather than an online element."

Pamela Hobbins, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education, said that such a program is needed and that ideally, every student should have the opportunity to take AP courses.

"In Tennessee, we have limited funding resources; therefore, the Department of Education is very aggressive in pursuing federal dollars through grants," Hobbins said, because such grants enable more students to have access to AP courses.

Paul Bloom, vice president of strategic marketing at Apex Learning, said that it is also hard for schools, particularly in rural areas, to get qualified teachers to teach AP courses, which contain college-level materials.

"AP courses are also part of a national standard, so we didn't have to derive our software on a school-by-school basis," Bloom said. "There's also a single, nationwide exam, which represents a clear, uniform way for us to measure ourselves in terms of how our programs are working."

Although Apex Learning chose to specialize in online AP courses, it is planning to branch out in the fall with classes in technology and foreign languages.

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