Madison School District Working on Virtual School


By this time next year, students from across the country could be attending Madison schools online.
The Madison Metropolitan School District is developing a virtual campus and curriculum. The idea has been in the works for several years, but the district hopes to make it widely available for the 2006-2007 school year.
WISC-TV caught up with one Sun Prairie family who uses online education to home school nine of their 10 children.
Sharon Leonard has nothing but glowing words for virtual schools. Her son John, 7, is currently enrolled in the Appleton School District’s Virtual kindergarten program.
“I like curriculum with a lot of diversity that’s a bit challenging,” said Leonard. “Not too heavy on the writing part, not lots of homework, not lots of extra assignments. I just want them to focus on the basics.”

10 thoughts on “Madison School District Working on Virtual School”

  1. Does anyone know what grade levels this new virtual school will serve? Also, will children with IEPs be able to participate in the virtual school?

  2. Molly,
    I can find no mention of virtual school development on the MMSD Web site or in school board minutes. Consequently, many, many more questions could and should be asked in addition to yours. Here are just a few:
    – What has been and will be the school board’s role in the development of a virtual school?
    – How far along are the administration’s plans for a virtual school?
    – Does the administration have a timeline for development of the school?
    – How much has already been spent in dollars and staff time?
    – What might the development and implementation cost in total?
    – How would development and implementation be funded under the current revenue caps?
    – Has a market study been conducted to assess how many students might enroll in a virtual school offered by MMSD when other districts in Wisconsin and the nation offer virtual courses?
    – Has an assessment been made on whether the virtual school would cost more than it might capture in state aids, since some schools report that a virtual school is not a money maker?
    – Has the administration sought input from the board, teachers, parents, students, the vast computer expertise of the university and community, as well as the community in general?
    – Does the board and administration have concrete plans to seek input in the future?
    – How will the curriculum be selected? Will it only duplicate what the MMSD currently offers or will it offer courses that are not offered?
    – How will students without computers access the virtual school?
    An MMSD virtual school may be a great idea, but certainly the administration should not develop it without oversight from the board and input from many, many sources outside of the Doyle building.

  3. Is the MMSD really going to offer online courses to students outside of the MMSD while at the same time denying high school credit to their own students who take non-MMSD online courses?

  4. It’s hard to say what they’ll do with this since there hasn’t been much fanfare or details made public yet. I can’t imagine it would exclude students with IEPs as that would be against federal law. I haven’t seen anything indicating your concerns about credit Janet, so I wouldn’t jump the gun quite yet. I sure wouldn’t rely on a news report or the rumour mill at SIS regarding the details. Ask the folks at MMSD who are in charge of the Virtual School!

  5. And who would those folks be, David? 🙂 Seriously, a virtual school would probably serve at least our son’s needs much better than a bricks-and-mortar one is right now, and he has an IEP. IN fact, WI Virtual Academcy accepted both of our older children (6th and 5th now) for this year, but Madison refused to “release” them and allow them to attend.
    As for how people without computers do virtual school? I know most of the existing programs (if not all, by necessity) send you a computer and printer dedicated to schoolwork. That is one of the major costs associated with it. But they do still have to pay teachers to follow the students’ on-line progress, follow up IEP students, etc. My understanding is that a bunch of districts jumped on this bandwagon thinking it would be “free money” for their “real schools”, and then found that it was much more expensive and less practical for them to run than they thought it would be. They all run into the problem we had too, where the “home district” refuses to allow the kids to shift districts, because it would cost the home district any state aid connected to that student. All they have to do is claim that it would “further increase racial imbalance” in the local public school or school district, and then not allow you to shift your child.

  6. The development of this new policy gives credence for placing the MMSD in level one of the rubrics on leadership ( and partnerships (
    On partnership development, the rubric clearly describes the MMSD:
    “Barriers are erected to close out involvement of outsiders. Outsiders are managed for least impact on status quo.”
    In the case of the MMSD, “outsiders” means anyone outside of the Doyle Building.
    The leadership rubric describes stage one as:
    “[Superintendent] as decision maker. Decisions are reactive to state, district, and federal mandates;
    [Superintendent] makes all decisions, with little or no input from teachers, the community, or students. Leadership inspects for mistakes;
    Decisions lack focus and consistency. There is little staff buy-in. Students and parents do no feel they are being heard. Decision-making process is clear and known.”
    The MMSD could be so much more if the board pushed the administration to move from stage one toward stage 5 on the rubrics.
    We should be sure to elect board members who will push, not board members who believe the status quo is just because the superintendent tells them so.

  7. I have had friends with similar problems with virtual school enrollment-Madison said no due to increase in racial imbalance. I find this discriminatory in itself! You can, however, leave Madison and PAY for private or virtual schooling if it’s in the best interest of your child and you cause an imbalance anyway. Then they lose your children in the count and subsequently money! I’m surprised to hear that MMSD is participating in a virtual school process-shouldn’t the board be discussing this at board meetings? This article is the first I’ve heard of it!

  8. No one should have to depend on a news report or the rumor mill on SIS to find out that a virtual school is in the works, funded by grants (at the moment).
    It has been in the works for years, says the news report. We’ve been cutting staff and support for current students for years.
    Did the Board know, and when did they know it? Did they pass judgment on this work?. Is this where MMSD should be spending its resources? Has the work been fully funded by the grants? When will the grants run out? When that happens, how much will it cost to continue the operation? Should MMSD be in the business of reinventing the virtual school? Could it have been contracted out? What are the subjects being prepared for the virtual school? Is MMSD doing this alone or as a consortium of other districts? What hardware and software did MMSD purchase, what training of staff did we pay for? What are the expansion plans, if any, for this service?
    The bottom line. Has the Board read and approved the business plan for this venture? Is there a business plan?

  9. Re. open enrollment and Madison refusing to release students.
    MMSD is unique in Dane County in its ability to do this. My understanding is that it receives state desegregation aid, under provisions of Chap. 220, and the state’s open enrollment law allows such districts to deny, or not release, open enrollment requests (of non-minority students) on racial imbalance grounds. MMSD is the only district in the county with the ability to do this, and the number of districts statewide with similar power is fairly small. But, they do tend to be larger districts. One might fault, as some posters have, MMSD for doing this, but it is adhering to what state lawmakers allowed such districts to do when they created the open enrollment law.

  10. I went to MMSD website and searched for virtual school, and came up with the following link from a year ago – (more along the lines of virtual AP classes), in addition to the Channel 3000 piece on a virtual school being operational in MMSD next year.
    I don’t know if developing a virtual school is already part of a strategic plan, or if any plans have been developed and shared from the administration to the School Board. I know the Board president indicated an interest, but I did not find any School Board discussion, direction, parameters, etc. I think there are School Board members who want to work out more of a framework for what comes to the School Board when, who is responsible for what and when do (should) various School Board decisions need to be made. The virtual schools might be one example where a School Board discussion now might be appropriate to work out roles, decision points, dollars, etc.

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