Austin Cyberschool

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Project Overview Project Name:

Virtual School

Project Rationale:

  • Student Need

There is a need to keep pace with the development of the semantic web. [1]There is a need to prepare for implementation of the Texas Virtual School Network [2] authorized by passage of SB 1788. This will build college readiness and a college-going culture in all public schools. There is an opportunity to create a revenue stream by offering Local Education Agencies developed curriculum to other districts and charter schools through the TxVSN and Supplemental Educational Services [3].

  • Rationale

Online learning is growing rapidly across the United States within all levels of education, as more and more students and educators become familiar with the benefits of learning unconstrained by time and place. Across most states and all grade levels, students are finding increased opportunity, flexibility, and convenience through online learning. Teachers are discovering a new way to reach students including those who were not successful in traditional schools and courses, (NACOL[4] National Primer on K-12 Online Learning, written by John Watson, 2007). Most colleges and universities now require the use of online learning as part of regular instruction and students who are prepared for that will be more successful in higher education. The State of Nebraska now requires all high school graduates to have completed at least one course online to graduate from high school. A similar local requirement for all Texas high school students is recommended. Although K-12 education lags behind post-secondary in using the Internet to teach, many school districts in Texas are realizing the potential of online education. Among the in state leaders are Houston ISD, Plano ISD and the Texas Virtual School at Region IV ESC. Fourteen school districts and charter schools participated in the Texas Virtual School Pilot in 2000-2003 and a few continued to offer online learning to students in their districts. Successful programs are teacher-led, and include the utilization of a Content Management System [5]. It is now possible to earn funding from the state for students in attendance. The Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) legislation enables Texas public school districts to offer online learning while earning ADA funding for their own students or to sell the educational services to other schools in the state.

Objectives and Scope:

  1. To establish the framework whereby a Cyberschool will begin operating by the conclusion of the next academic year.
  2. To create a curriculum for Supplemental Educational Services that can be used in-district or out-of-district.
  3. Establish a Cyberschool Task Force to meet monthly and at the conclusion of the initial year of planning to draft a report with recommendations to the Superintendent of Schools.
  • Scope:

Includes students, teachers, technology facilitators, curriculum specialists, college and career center staff, campus administrators and district administrators

Expected Outcome:

  1. College Readiness [6]– additional early college start and dual credit opportunities provided by direct access to colleges and universities
  2. Increase the number of students taking AP classes
  3. Increase the number of graduates under the recommended graduation plan
  4. Establish a Moodle [7] server for Learning Content Management.

Campuses Affected: All public school campuses within the LEA

Timeline: TBD

Project Description/Activities:

  • Activities
  1. Leadership and Planning -- A Cyberschool Task Force will be constituted of Technology Facilitators from the Technology Department, Curriculum Specialists from the Curriculum and Instruction Department, Campus Administrators and Counselors. District administrators will provide leadership.
  2. Facilitation – The district will designate a Distance Learning Facilitator who will establish communication with Texas Education Agency, Region XX Education Service Center, and Harris County Education Department, the agencies administering the Texas Virtual School Network. The Distance Learning Facilitator with consultation of instructional coaches in each of the core subject areas will create a shell curriculum for online instruction. The LEA will select master teachers from each of the core subject areas to convert the courses they teach face-to-face into a digital format for online instruction. Once these courses are complete they will be submitted to the Texas Virtual School Network for approval.
  3. Training -- Training for the Distance Education Facilitator and Technology Facilitators will be by the Learning ISD [8] The district Technology Dept. may choose whether to purchase hosting services or to self manage servers loaded with Joomla [9]and Moodle ®[10] CMS. Training for potential online instructors will be provided to teachers who are selected at each campus and to teacher aides selected to serve as student and parent liaisons. The Texas Virtual School [11] at Region IV Education Service Center will provide this training using the BlackBoard platform.

External Partners Role:

  1. The Educational Technology Division [12] at TEA will regulate the state Texas Virtual School Network.
  2. Executive Travis Rural Area Inc. [13] is available to facilitate creating a Cyberschool Task Force and work with the LEA Curriculum and Instruction and Technology facilitators and the Texas Computer Education Assn. [14]
  3. Various institutions of higher education will enroll students in dual enrollment or early college start classes.
  4. Learning ISD will provide training to LEA Technology Facilitators.
  5. Region IV ESC’s Texas Virtual School staff will provide training to online instructors and liaison staff as required by TxVSN legislation.
  6. A variety of public and for profit vendors and service providers of online curriculum will offer their support. No external curriculum will be purchased during the initial planning year as teachers are engaged in developing their own courses online. Open Source course content will be evaluated for possible adoption.

Resource Overview:

State funding from the following grant funds are appropriate for this project:

Vision 2020 grants funded under NCLB Title II, Part D Enhancing Education Through Technology will focus on the best practices from earlier pilots implemented within the state of Texas educational technology arena such as the Virtual School Pilot (VSP) and the Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP).

High School Allotment was created in May 2006 by the 79th Texas Legislature (Third Called Session) and allocates $275 per high school student to be distributed to school districts through the Foundation School Program (FSP).

Technology Allotment All LEAs in Texas receive a $30 per student technology allotment for the purchase of technology in support of the goals of The Long-Range Plan for Technology.

Middle College/Early College (MCEC) High School Expansion Grants give students who typically would not pursue postsecondary studies an opportunity to complete high school.

The Virtual School will become self-sustaining once enrolled in the TxVSN. Electronic Course Pilot (eCP)[15] and TxVSN enrollment is supported by Average Daily Attendance. The district will realize a new revenue stream by offering courses via the Texas Virtual School Network.

Implications for the Local Education Agency:


The Cyberschool proposal must be consistent with the District Strategic Improvement Plan and part of district's the Long Range Technology Plan:

Causal Factors: The following causal factors may address the main underlying reasons for students not performing at the desired level necessary to become a recognized district. These causal factors are the basis for all of the strategies developed in a District Strategic Improvement Plan. The identified causal factors include:

  • Lack of fully aligned and articulated scope and sequence.
  • Lack of full implementation of research based effective teaching strategies in all classrooms.
  • Lack of focused, coordinated professional development plan.
  • Lack of coordinated local assessment program aligned to the LEA’s curriculum.

Key Improvement Initiatives/Strategies: The causal factors must be addressed in the District Strategic Improvement Plan and the Long Term Technology Plan. The key strategies listed will help the LEA to reach the goal of being a recognized school district. The District Strategic Improvement Plan should be monitored continuously by the Executive Leadership Team. Periodic updates should be provided to the LEA Board of Trustees and the District Academic Advisory Committee with input solicited for any significant changes. Deployment of an aligned, viable and guaranteed curriculum in the four core content areas. Development of a system to monitor the implementation of the District Curriculum Development and train LEA staff in specific teaching techniques for implementation of research based instructional strategies. Aligned and coordinated local assessment program aligned to the LEA's curriculum. Use of Data to specifically target intervention efforts.</span>

  1. Outcomes could result in improved teaching and learning using proven constructivist models.
  2. The LEA will have a College Readiness plan consistent with directives coming from state regulatory agencies.
  3. The LEA could realize a potential revenue generator by providing educational services as part of the Texas Virtual School Network while increasing productivity from existing technology infrastructure.
  4. Students requiring SES tutoring services could receive quality instruction in-district.
  5. Online learning creates greater opportunities for “just in time” assessment and coaching at the point of instruction.
  6. The Texas Education Agency announced on April 25, 2008 key partnerships with local education service centers and a number of other entities in the launching of the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) [16].


  1. If the district decides to purchase online courses rather than develop them in house, expenditures would have to be offset by ADA revenue.
  2. Oversight of virtual schools has been lacking in some states.
  • Needs:
  1. Technology Dept. support to build a district-wide authentication system for Moodle ® CMS;
  2. Campus administrators’ support to identify teachers at each high school campus who meet the SREB guidelines[17] for quality online instruction; and
  3. Instructional coaching support for curriculum development and instructional oversight.

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