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Helping At-Risk High School Students with Online Solutions: Apex Learning CEO Cheryl Vedoe (Part 5)

Posted on Sunday, Nov 29th 2009

SM: In your research, what were some of the key deltas you found between your at-risk students and your gifted students, and how did that affect your design?

CV: There are a great many things we do differently now that we are addressing at-risk and low performing students. What you find when you do the research on at-risk and low performing students is that a significant percentage of them are struggling because they are reading well below grade level. Approximately 70% of students in the 8th grade have tested below proficiency in reading. When they get into high school they are going to struggle with grade-appropriate material.

We are working to re-author our courses with a new versions which are specifically designed for those who read at a below-proficient level. We need to provide those students with scaffolding, which is a variety of support to help them stay focused and stay successful. It can be as simple as a series of worksheets they are able to print out and work on. It can be facilitated note- taking or even annotated reading. Roll-over vocabulary is also helpful.

SM: In the high school curriculum category, who do you view as your top competitors?

CV: When we look at providers who offer similar distance learning that have a similar design we find a handful of companies. Aventa Learning is one and Advanced Academics is another. There is a state funded virtual school in Florida called Florida Virtual School that sells their courses. There is a not-for-profit organizations in Massachusetts called VHS that competes in this space.

SM: What about K12?

CV: I put them in a different category. Their primary business is actually operating virtual high schools. We actually have had a long working relationships with them. They have used some of our courses and continue to do so. We view them in a different sector of the business. In many ways they are a customer for us.

SM: They also seem to have very extensive curriculum design and may look at selling that curriculum.

CV: They do have very extensive curriculum design. They developed all of their own K-8 curriculum, and while they did not initially develop all of their own high school curriculum they are certainly moving in that direction. As is often the case when a company is a customer and partner they very well may become a competitor in the future.

SM: You brought a full suite of high school curriculum to market. How many schools in the United States are using your curriculum?

CV: There are thousands.

SM: What has been your market penetration strategy?

CV: We have a national sales team, and we do business in all states. We have found there are regions of the country which tend to be more aggressive to adopt online learning. We are finding interest all over the country.

SM: How is the online teaching concept received among teachers unions?

CV: Initially we did find, and I think all of the organizations involved with distance learning find some concern on the part of teachers and unions. I think because of our focus of providing opportunities to at-risk students that there has been an increasing acceptance of distance learning and its role supporting all students in a district. The vast majority of our students today are sitting in brick and mortar classrooms with teachers working directly with them. That is where we have seen the greatest growth in our business.

SM: Are you experiencing segmentation bias between private and public schools?

CV: Our primary focus is public schools. That is where they vast majority of students are.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Helping At-Risk High School Students with Online Solutions: Apex Learning CEO Cheryl Vedoe
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