There’s nothing better than when a young mind hungers for knowledge. Unfortunately, many schools are unable to provide their students a wide range of courses because they can’t justify the expense of bringing on full-time staff members to teach a small percentage of the student body. This is especially true in the current economic climate, where states are struggling to balance budgets. Most often, it’s enrichment programs, such as music and foreign languages, that get cut first in order to make ends meet.
However, some school districts, including the Evergreen School District in Clark County, Washington, have found ways to continue offering elective classes, despite budget cuts. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ted Feller, the Executive Director of Secondary Education for the Evergreen School District, to discuss their online learning program and the classes that they’re offering. Here is what Dr. Feller has to say.
LOTL: Can you give us some background about your district’s online learning program?
Dr. Feller: Our online learning programs are quite numerous. We have a full online school with approximately 600 students enrolled. We also provide blended learning experiences for our students who take some of their courses online through our virtual school and then other courses that they take at their comprehensive high schools. We have about 125 students involved in that program.
LOTL: How has the online learning program been used to increase student access to a larger catalog of courses?
Dr. Feller: This past year we started offering Middlebury world languages for our students at our middle schools. We provide four different world language programs—Mandarin, Spanish, German, and French—to all six of our middle schools. In total, 235 students earned high school world language credits this past year, putting them ahead of the game before they even enter high school.
LOTL: How has that world languages program been received? How has it compared to traditional face-to-face language courses?
Dr. Feller: It’s probably our biggest success as of right now. The world language program enabled the district to go from no world language in our middle schools to 235 students earning high school credit.
We wanted to make sure that the experience students were receiving was as good as what the students would receive from face-to-face instruction with a teacher. To evaluate our effectiveness, we assessed the students who were taking first-year world language from a classroom teacher and the ones who were taking it through the virtual program.
We evaluated them on their language acquisition and how they did comparatively, and we found out that the students who were taking the online courses did just as well on the world language assessment as the students that experienced it in a brick-and-mortar classroom. That really helped our teachers understand that the online experience is equal or better than the experience they would get with a brick-and-mortar teacher.
Tight budgets and a lack of resources shouldn’t force a school or district to limit the educational opportunities that it offers to its students. As the Evergreen District’s success illustrates, utilizing online learning programs for catalog expansion can enable a school to deliver a wide range of courses and subjects to students—even if the budget dollars for new teachers aren’t available.