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Massachusetts has one fully online school and a few supplemental options for students. Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield (MAVA) served 476 students in grades K-8 in SY 2012-13, and it is expanding to serve students in grades 9-12 in SY 2013-14. No other virtual schools are approved for SY 2013-14. As the home of the Virtual High School (VHS), Massachusetts has the most course enrollments of any state in the consortium, with 7,100 students took a class through The Virtual High School (VHS) in SY 2013-14, an estimated 2.5% of the state’s high school population and a 26% increase over the prior year. In 2012 “An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools” (H4274, 2012) was approved by the legislature, providing a new framework for online and supplemental K-12 educational opportunities for students as of January 2013. In July 2013 the state closed MassONE, a state program to provide tools and resources to educators.  

Fully online schools

The fully online school landscape is expected to change in 2014 with the passage of Chapter 379 in 2013, however, in SY 2013-14 there is still one fully online school serving students statewide under the original virtual schol legislation. Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield (MAVA) was the first full-time online school to be created. It opened in fall 2010 in partnership with K12 Inc. after receiving a waiver from the BESE that allowed it to have only 2% of its students live in the district operating the school. While that number is relatively small, it requires that a step be added to the registration process to ensure that a sufficient number of local resident students are enrolled at any given time. MAVA enrolled 476  students in grades K 8 in 2012-13; it was capped at 500 students. In November 2013, it notified the Greenfield Schools Department that it would no longer require its services as of June 2014, and will become an independent public school.

With the passage of Chapter 379 in 2013, MAVA was required to apply to become a CMVS, and its application as the Greenfield Virtual School was approved in July 2013. The school now serves grades K-12 and can accommodate 750 students in SY 2013-14, 250 of whom may be high school students. Enrollment may increase to 1,000 students in SY 2014-15, and to 1,250 for SY 2015-16. While future CMVS will require that 5% of students be local, MAVA has been grandfathered in at 2%. MAVA terms stipulate a per-pupil tuition rate of $6,700. A CMVS approval process for new schools was not created prior to SY 2013-14, so no other schools have yet been approved.

State virtual school

Massachusetts had a state-led learning portal, MassONE, that closed in July 2013. It offered online tools and resources to all 70,000 pre-K-12 teachers and 577,000 students in grades 5-12. Teachers rostered students into classes for blended (face-to-face and online) course work. The number of teachers and students who were active users dropped from 50,396 teachers and students (January 2009 to July 2010) to 30,223 from September 2010 through June 2011.

District programs

Massachusetts has little district activity. In prior years, the state collected data on student and teacher enrollment in online courses. In 2009-10, 43% of the school districts in Massachusetts reported having at least one student taking an online course; this is up from 40% in 2008-09. This translates to 10,398 students taking an online course that was paid for or sponsored by their district, a 59% increase from 6,560 students in 2008-09. In addition, 63% of districts reported at least one educator taking an online course.

As the home of the Virtual High School (VHS), Massachusetts has the most course enrollments of any state in the consortium with 6,772, an increase of 9% over the previous year, and about one-third of VHS total enrollments.

The Educational Collaborative (TEC) Online Academy served 30 supplemental courses to 236 high school students in SY 2012-13, funded via student fees typically paid by the sending district.  As of November 2014, TEC is seeking approval from the state to open the TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School for students in grades K-12 in SY 2014-15, becoming the second virtual school in the state.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education launched a pilot program in 2009-10 in online assessment for students taking the Massachusetts English Proficiency Assessment; more than 67,000 students were tested in 2012. MCAS now tests in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science and Technology/Engineering, with 95% of students participating in SY 2012-13.

Thirty-four school districts across the Commonwealth are now piloting the new Edwin Teaching and Learning system (ET&L), implemented since 2012 as part of Race to the Top. A statewide teaching and learning platform, Edwin provides curricular, administrative, and analysis/reporting tools, as well as the ability to search for and use digital resources from third-party resources.  Content will be aligned to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, which include the Common Core Standards.

Online learning policy history

2003: Massachusetts does not have any legislation that governs supplemental online courses, however, in 2003 the State Department of Education published “Massachusetts Recommended Criteria for Distance Learning Courses.” It stated, “Since the Department does not approve or oversee online courses, it is up to each school district to decide if it will allow students to take online courses, determine which students can take online courses, and evaluate the available online course offerings.” The recommended criteria include:

  • “The content of the course is aligned with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and is equivalent in rigor to traditionally delivered courses.
  • The course makes the best use of available technologies and online resources to enrich the content. Face-to-face or other real-time meetings are provided for any content that cannot be effectively delivered online.
  • The course provides frequent and timely interactions between the students and the online teacher, as well as among the students.
  • The course provides ways to assess students’ participation and achievement of learning goals. • The online teacher has been trained and is skilled in methods of teaching online.
  • The school designates an onsite coordinator, who manages technical and administrative issues and serves as the primary contact person between the school, the students, and the course provider.
  • The learning environment and course materials are universally designed, making them accessible to all learners.”

2008: In June 2008, the office of the Governor released the administration’s education plan, “Ready for 21st Century Success, the New Promise of Public Education.” The wide-ranging report states in its short term action items that “the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will accelerate efforts to make available to teachers an online, formative assessment system that will provide “real time” data on student performance as measured against state standards.”

2010: Massachusetts passed a sweeping education law (603 CMR 1.00) in January 2010 that permitted the opening of virtual innovation schools. In July 2010, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) adopted new guidelines for innovation schools, including virtual innovation schools. The guidelines cap enrollment for online schools at 500 students, require that 25% of those students live in the district operating the school, require that no more than 2% of a school’s enrollments may come from any other single district, and give the Education Commissioner the power to approve any requests to waive the restrictions. Online students have to comply with state requirements for class time, which is defined for high school students as completing 990 hours of “structured learning” annually. In addition, classes must meet the state’s academic standards, which specify what subject matter should be taught at each grade level. Students also must take the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) summative tests. The Commissioner of Education and BESE have stated that the Innovation Schools Act is not working as intended. The commissioner has made legislative recommendations, including one to move virtual schools under charter school purview. With the passage of Chapter 379 in 2013 (see below), Innovation Schools are no longer allowed, and MAVA has shifted to becoming a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School as of SY 2013-14.

2013: An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools” (Chapter 379) was signed into law in 2013; it defines “Commonwealth virtual school” as a public school, operated by a board of trustees whose teachers primarily teach from a remote location using the Internet or other computer-based methods and whose students are not required to be located at the physical premises of the school. Chapter 379 states that:

  • Applicants approved by the board are awarded a certificate to operate a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School (CMVS or Commonwealth virtual school) for three to five years.
  • The board was required to create a request for proposals (RFP) process by October 1, 2013, to establish new CMVS.
  • A single school district, two or more school districts, an education collaborative, an institution of higher education, a non-profit entity, two or more certified teachers, or parents are eligible to submit proposals for a CMVS. Private and parochial schools and for-profit entities are not eligible.
  • The board may authorize no more than three CMVS for the 2013-16 school years.
  • No more than 2% (roughly 19,000) of students enrolled in public schools statewide may be enrolled full time in virtual schools, and no more than 10 CMVS may operate at one time.
  • A CMVS established by one or more districts or a collaborative must enroll at least 5% of its students from the sponsoring district(s) or collaborative.
  • A school committee may vote to restrict enrollment of its students in CMVS if its total virtual school enrollment exceeds 1% of the district’s student population.
  • MAVA would automatically be awarded a certificate to operate a CMVS upon submission of a timely application (process was completed in June 2013 and a certificate awarded).
  • The cost for students attending a CMVS is set at the “school choice tuition amount” (up to $5,000), though the board may approve alternate amounts within limits.
  • Each CMVS shall submit an annual report and obtain an annual independent financial audit; the department shall publish periodic reports on CMVS covering academic performance and demographic data, and shall report to the legislature on implementation and impact of the new law.
  • The department shall develop and publish a list of online courses aligned with current state academic standards that school districts may use.The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) Office of Digital Learning provides an annual “Digital Learning in Massachusetts” report, which focuses primarily on the use of classroom-based tools for blended learning.

last updated October 15, 2014

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