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Indiana's virtual school frontier

What will public education look like in five years?

Here's what Dennis Kruse, chairman of Indiana's Senate Education Committee, sees, from a list shared with Indiana school administrators:

1) People will educate students for success.

2) Virtual education will be used more.

3) Fewer buildings will be required.

4) Potential of fewer teachers teaching differently

5) More options will be available for families.

6) Choice and Competiton will increase.

7) Project learning will be used more.

8) Significant increase in Charter Schools.

9) Significant increase in Virtual Schools.

10) Introducing Hybrid Schools Virtual/Tradition

11) Increase of outside vendors (Kahn Academy)

12) Discovery Education will increase in use.

13) Business interest in education will increase.

14) More dual enrollment/dual credit classes.

15) K-12 will better prepare students for college

16) Readingand math will be emphasized more.

17) Students will come first.

18) Year Round School schedule used more.

19) School funding will remain flat.

20) Colleges of Education will change training.

At first glance, Kruse's list seems heavy on measures pushed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who lost his re-election bid last week in decisive fashion. Indiana voters didn't support Bennett's vision for their schools; they're not likely to support this one.

Kruse's list suggests Indiana will need fewer teachers, possibly because online instruction will replace them. He refers specifically to virtual learning in four of his observations; it's implied in several others.

The Auburn Republican's interest in virtual education might have something to do with his campaign supporters. Connections Academy gave Kruse $1,000 last year and $500 in 2009. The Baltimore-based virtual education provider also has generously supported the state's GOP Senate Majority Campaign Committee.

Kruse might be sold on virtual schooling, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest it is ineffective. In Ohio, it's producing low rates of college participation. There's also evidence that it shifts taxpayer dollars from students to the providers. Special education students seem to be neglected in some cases.

Kruse might also want to look at how Indiana's current virtual schools are performing under the state's A-F grading system – a system he defended in a conversation earlier this month. Indiana Connections Academyearned a D. Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter earned an F. Hoosier Academy in Muncie earned an F.

Is this what public education should look like in five years?

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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