Christian School Goes Online
Source: The Enquirer (Cincinnati)
April 16, 2006
SYMMES TOWNSHIP, OH -- The man who led Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy's elementary school is launching a Christian school online.
Mark Beadle left his 17-year position as principal at Cincinnati Hills in January.
Now, he's starting The Virtual Christian Academy, a Web-based online school for grades 2 through 12.
Although not affiliated with Cincinnati Hills, the school joins a host of providers of online education services that cater to what many say is a growing worldwide market.
"Virtual education is changing the face of education," Beadle said. "More and more students - in college and in the K-12 grades - are taking courses online."
National estimates say that at least 1.2 million American students are educated at home each year.
Ohio estimates 60,000; Kentucky says about 12,000 learn at home.
Many are enrolled in online academies, mostly secular versions of what Beadle proposes.
Yet 70 percent of homeschoolers do it for religious reasons, Beadle said.
He wants to attract the Christians.
That's risky because there are many varieties of Christians and many varieties of homeschooling.
One virtual school can't hope to win them all, said Harry Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University.
Some homeschoolers buy entire education plans - lessons, texts, even tests for each subject and grade.
Many others pick and choose among materials, independently plotting their children's course of study, said Randy Wilhelm, a Loveland homeschooling parent who markets an Internet search engine to homeschool families.
"If (Beadle) can make this work, I think it'll be really cool," Wilhelm said.
"I think people who aren't homeschooling might see it as a potential reason to start."
Beadle's academy launches Sept. 1, offering 50 courses and 40 online teachers.
He said he hopes to sign on at least 900 students the first year and 20,000 within 10 years.
They'll come from around the globe, he said, including children of overseas missionaries and foreign Christians.
"We picture students in Saudi Arabia being able to interact with students in the same class in Cincinnati and Kansas City," he said.
"That will increase the viability of discussion and help us understand what a small world we'll be living in."
A typical class involves a teacher "meeting" online with 20 students for daily assignments, quizzes, and interaction.
"When a teacher asks a question, say, about women's rights or civil rights, she's going to get a response from every student in the classroom," he said.
"In a typical classroom, two or three students raise their hands, but other students don't participate. Online, every student is required to respond ... You see everybody's response and you have to respond to at least two students. The teacher also is responding."
The Virtual Christian Academy gets much of its curriculum from the Jefferson County Educational Services Center, an arm of Ohio's Department of Education.
The academy pays the state a licensing fee of $165 per student.
"Our students will be learning what the secular world view says about evolution and women's rights and we'll be adding in the perspectives of what Christian leaders say and what the Bible says," he said.
A parent who buys just the books and materials would pay $990 to enroll, but parents or schools who want everything including the online teacher would pay $1,200.
Beadle predicted his school will have $5 million in revenue per year within five years and be profitable within three.
Carol Topp, a Sharonville mother of two homeschooled daughters, said now is a good time for such a service.
Although she feels comfortable picking among a variety of secular and religious-based courses, many other homeschoolers would welcome pre-packaged Christian education, she said.
"It depends on how much a parent wants to teach," she said.
"Some parents only want to teach their particular theological viewpoint. My point is I want to teach my kids to think."
The key will be if the virtual academy tells the truth about history - even religious history, Topp said.
"If you gloss over the truth - and history is not pleasant - then you don't produce kids who know what they believe and why they believe," she said.