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June 8, 1998

UCSC conference to explore ideas for virtual high school

Online courses could 'level playing field' for prospective college students from all areas

By Francine Tyler

Educators from across California will discuss the feasibility of a statewide "virtual" high school, offering college-preparatory courses online, at a conference this month at UCSC.

Approximately 125 high school teachers, administrators, and members of the UCSC faculty and staff have been invited to attend the conference, which takes place Saturday, June 13. UCSC administrators hope to leave the conference with a recommendation about whether the University of California, in partnership with California high schools, should explore an idea of creating a statewide virtual high school.

As envisioned, the virtual high school would offer courses on the World Wide Web that are required for admission to the University of California (known as "A-F" requirements), as well as honors and Advanced Placement courses. Students would access the courses from computers at their homes or schools. Teachers at participating high schools would also be able to integrate the online courses into the curriculum at their local schools.

The virtual high school would be particularly designed for students who don't have easy access to UC-qualifying, AP, and honors courses and are therefore at a disadvantage when applying for admission to UC, said Francisco J. Hernandez, vice chancellor for student affairs at UCSC. These students might attend a high school that doesn't offer a full range of these courses or attend a home-based or alternative school.

"A virtual high school would truly level the playing field for a student who otherwise wouldn't have access to the courses that at this time are prerequisites for admission to the University of California," said Hernandez. "I'm certain the schools will be offering more of these electronic courses on their own, and it's our belief the university has a responsibility to participate."

At the conference, those in attendance will discuss:

If those attending the conference express support for the virtual high school idea, the next step for the project will be to create a pilot program, said Hernandez.

"The important thing about this project is that we are looking at this as a partnership between the university and the high schools," said Hernandez. "We would develop the curriculum together, and together decide how the curriculum would be delivered to the students."

Teachers and administrators from ten counties statewide have been invited to attend the conference. The counties are Fresno, Imperial, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Siskiyou.

UCSC received $50,000 in funding from UC's Office of the President to conduct a study of the curriculum and technological readiness of high schools in these counties and to organize the conference.

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