The question floating around many metro school districts is whether online learning opportunities will continue in the 2021-22 school year if in-person learning is available full-time in the fall.
The answer is 'unlikely' in Eastern Carver County Schools.
That is after more than 2,600 responses from district families resulted in less than 200 commitments in grades Pre-K through 11.
"All of our families have experienced (Online Learning Academy), Distance Learning 2.0, and we still don't have a high level of commitment. There is an extremely high value from our community with in-person learning at all levels," said Chris Hentges, District 112 Leader of Personalized Learning: Digital Services, at a March 15 school board meeting.
Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams tasked Hentges and his team to not only survey every district family, but to build what an online model may look like at all three levels, elementary, middle school and secondary, and analyze the findings and see where trends were developing.
"All we heard was everyone wanted this. Districts are racing to do it. Instead, they went out and really found out," Sayles-Adams said, about Hentges and his team. "Looking at the data, it shows something different. We wanted to make sure we didn't miss an opportunity."
In total, 2,648 responses were received, along with dialogue and feedback from all building administrators.
"As we analyzed the data and the feedback, what we were really looking for is the number of students that would commit if we were to offer. K-8, specifically, or high school. As we thought about those commitments, we had to make sure we could create a cost-neutral staffing plan in a sustainable program. Not something we run for one year and cut, but something we could establish from a long-term perspective," Hentges said.
The three critical goals for the Online Learning Academy for the current school year were:
- Create a relevant and rigorous academic program.
- To have high expectations for student learning.
- Have high levels of engagement for learning.
"These are three areas where we have spent a lot of time throughout the course of this year working with teachers, working with students, and working with our families," Hentges said.
COMMITMENT LEVEL LOW
So, what were the findings?
Currently, OLA for elementary students is treated like a ninth elementary building. Schedules are separate from in-person learners. Jay Woller, principal at East Union Elementary, and Hentges, have provided administrative oversight.
Of the 4,165 students currently in grades pre-K through fourth grade, 1,845 surveys responded with "no interest" in online learning. The commitment number was just 40, or 0.9%.
At the district's three middle schools, online classes are embedded into the middle school schedule, and like elementary, there is a balance of synchronous and asynchronous. Students have full schedule of online classes with the three buildings working together on enrollment and staffing.
Because of this, a student may have a teacher, or may be classmates, with anyone from the three middle schools.
Of the 1,996 students currently in grades five through seven, 818 responses said "no interest," while only 36 students, or 1.7%, would commit.
That led Hentges and his team to decide that because of a lack of future sustainability, and there being no cost-neutral plan, ECCS will not explore an Online Learning Academy option for 2021-22 for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.
While numbers were similar with students in grades eight through 11 — just 120 commits among 3,033 students with 723 "no interest" responses — the district will continue to offer online learning in core classes for juniors and seniors.
Currently, those courses are English 12 and 11, Human Geography, Economics, U.S. Government, Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry and, at this time, Biology.
"Talking with other school districts, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Shakopee, Bloomington, some have established programs, others are looking to establish online courses. The common theme is that they want to focus on senior and junior year core classes," Hentges said.
If enough students are not interested in a class, it will not be offered, Hentges said.
"Some of our next steps are communicating with students the course offerings that will go online. ... We will be working with the teachers that will be teaching these classes this spring on further development of course design, professional development, assessment work, engagement, and learning. Really, it's using the ECCS online learning standards and framework we built over the summer, that we have integrated into our work this year, as the foundation of that work," Hentges said.
Fred Breg, school board member and retired teacher, commented on the results.
"This is the new and shiny thing. Some of us are instinctively attracted to something shiny. Maybe they found out with everything that was going on this year that the new and shiny isn't as good as having the old guy, or young lady, standing in the room and working with them in an individual basis," he said.