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Public Schools Seize Online Education Opportunity

One of the critical components of distance learning is the fact that classroom size is virtually infinite.�� Increasingly, public school systems and many colleges are finding that cost savings realized by the use of online teaching do not compromise the quality of the education.

The Economist reports on an Alabama experiment that has become a statewide success.�� Alabama has many small, rural schools that due to budget constraints cannot be fully staffed by qualified teachers.���� Teachers are spread around so that one student may have to stop after two years of Spanish, while another may need to choose between chemistry and physics.

In 2005 Governor Bob Riley announced a pilot program using internet technology to link students in one town to a teacher in another.�� The program cost $10 million to start, causing a fair amount of public skepticism.�� By2006 four thousand students were taking online classes in 24 schools.�� Program expansion is now providing online classes to 22,000 students.

Minnesota has a statewide program called Minnesota Online High School that allows students to take some or all of their high school courses online.�� This program is free to any Minnesota resident under the age of twenty who is qualified for 10th, 11th or 12th grade courses.���� The state has instituted a program available to all Minnesota high school students, bypassing the trial stage entirely.

At the community college level, Colorado's thirteen community college campuses have banded together and developed Colorado Community Colleges Online, a service that includes degrees in Criminal Justice, Emergency Management, Occupational Safety and Health, and Building Code Enforcement among their limited programs.�� While constrained by budget and faculty issues, Colorado has nonetheless centralized its approach to public online schooling for adults seeking the training for a profession.�� The consortium's certificate program has an additional nine programs available.�� Popularity of the program is such that the CCCO intends to expand its degree offerings.

President Obama's community college initiative includes $500 million for the expansion of online education.�� While this figure pales in comparison to the $2 billion-plus budgeted for bricks-and-mortar construction, it is nevertheless another testament to the quality and accessibility that distance learning programs can offer.�� High school districts are finding that with some equipment and a little initiative, traditional staffing and facility issues can be circumvented through the use of the virtual classroom.

Public schools, colleges and universities are all instituting online choices for students.�� The addition of public school systems to the distance learning universe only adds to online education options and lends credibility to the educational programs that have been refined by existing online schools, which have long since passed the developmental stage.

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