Earlier this year ASU Prep Digital COO, Amy McGrath, sat down with Mike McShane from the EdChoice Chats Podcast to discuss online learning, policy and the mission of ASU Prep Digital.
McShane and McGrath had a great conversation, really shedding light on what it is like to start a new learning option for students in our current education landscape. To hear the full episode, visit the EdChoice website or check it out on iTunes.
Mike McShane: “I’m curious, you’ve been involved in this space and you’ve lived in these. Just given this particular venture, I would love to know sort of what were the hardest thing that you all have had to overcome. I know you’re sort of early in the process now, but to actually get this thing up and running, what were some hurdles that you had to clear?”
Amy McGrath: “It continues to be a hurdle, and I think that’s because most of what works right now for students at scale is tied and anchored to a school model that I think there are really great school models out there and some progressive leaders in the space. But to truly focus on the learner as opposed to the actual system, the machine, it gets very difficult to plug into that. So creating these complex adaptive systems from a technology standpoint that can kind of jump in with the students and the entry point is the school, there tends to be friction there. Not even from the people, just from the actual system.
So that would probably be one of the many, but when we talk about how online kind of permeates all of the different ways that students learn, that’s been the bright spot. Kids are coming to us and we’re seeking out a lot of student feedback in terms of this is how we want to learn; this is what we want learning to look like. We know we’re moving in the right direction, I think it’s the adults that kind of have to figure it all out, but the kids have already figured it out.”
Mike McShane: “Sure, no absolutely. And I’m curious on the policy front, obviously, we here at EdChoice do a lot of writing about and researching policy, a lot of my background comes from doing research on policy. Are there sort of concretely maybe two or three sort of policy barriers that you run into? I know as you mentioned, there’s culture barriers and there’s sort of systemic issues, but are there specific policies that make your life difficult?”
Amy McGrath: “I think part of that is us demonstrating a progressive model that we hope policy will follow. Arizona is really nice in terms of the landscape there and offers quite a bit of autonomy. I’m thinking right now of our ESA situation right now and we’ve got some of our students that are actually leveraging the empowerment scholarship, so I think we have some small wins there but we’d like to see more volume behind that. And additionally, I think we’re really after kind of the student-centered decisions, and part of that will be students being able to make a decision based on the right instructional choice for them. And that might be parents doing that as well, and so what does that look like from a policy standpoint?
In Florida we had, when we established Florida Virtual School, we had the backing of the legislature and that was very helpful for us. And a part of our growth, our spike in enrollment, was really due to the fact that we worked with the legislature on this and a law was passed for all students in high school to take an online course before graduating. And so, of course, we saw kind of an avalanche from that. There are various pieces of policy that will drive us forward from an enrollment standpoint, but we’re also very hopeful that we’re going to see some legislation that backs kind of a “move on when ready” and “advance when ready” type of mentality where students are not tied to seek time, rather performance.”