The Expansion of Virtual Schools

Virtual schools are expanding operation around the country. Forty states now have classes available to take online for public school students, grades kindergarten through twelfth grade. Of the forty states that offer online school courses, between twenty-four and twenty-seven offer full-time options to public school students. And even more states are requiring that the student takes at least one class online. For a brief overview of states in southeastern United States that are implementing virtual schools look at SREB.

Even with the benefits of attending a virtual school, there are many problems that these programs are faced with. (Photo courtesy of aznow.biz)

So what about full-time attendance at a virtual school? For starters, even though it can be beneficial to take an online course in high school, I think that the problem for students taking full-time online classes in grades K through 12 is that they will continuously become more dependent on technology. While it’s great to have the internet at your disposal to utilize for research papers, reports, homework help or what have you, it could actually hinder younger students’ ability to interact with other students their age as well as hindering development of social skills needed for their maturation. Please read through my other post for more discussion. Some more informative posts as well: “Distance Learning at the K-12 Level” and “Core Courses for K-12″ for information on choosing appropriate courses required by some state public schools.

Another problem with making attendance in an online class is that there is no sure way to know that the registered student is the one who is completing the course work and tests. In response to this problem, however, more virtual schools are insisting on the student coming in face-to-face to take the necessary exams or tests. Not all registered virtual schools are requiring this though.  For the full article on problems in virtual schools read here at the Washington Post.

In addition, virtual schools are having trouble with enrollment. Not that they aren’t growing or gaining new students’ enrollments every school year. They are growing so fast that founders of different programs, such as FLVS and K12 virtual school program, are seeing huge percentage increases in enrollment each year. Meaning these schools need more program development, more classes offered, and more teachers. This can be a problem when the numbers just keep jumping, and the development is just doing a really good high step! It’s a double-bladed knife: tread one way, and there are more students than the virtual school programs can keep up with when considering development of classes and employment of certified teachers. Step the other way and enrollment slows down and the numbers drop. See full article here.

There is also the problem of curriculum and standards. While choosing the right program, you need to look at what the curriculum covers and from whom it is accredited. When looking through programs’ curriculum, make sure that it is at least accredited and approved by the state’s standards and organizations such as SACS, CITA, and GAC. Look here for more information on curriculum and state standards applied to virtual schools. Read this for more information on development of a successful virtual school.

Funding also makes its appearance in virtual schools. In order to develop a high quality school online, it is necessary to have appropriate funding for web development, dashboard, discussion forums, the curriculum, etc. This funding for traditional “brick-and-mortar” schools is approximately between $7500 and $8000 per student. The average funding per student for virtual schools is significantly less at an estimated $6000 to $6000. While this may not seem like much, it’s a big difference between an accredited and high quality virtual school and a non-accredited virtual school that only offers curriculum that covers few state standards. Read this article for an eye-opening look at how virtual schools are funded.

But even with the drawbacks, there are some great opportunities that make virtual schools a valuable commodity for students such as:

  • Learning to navigate and utilize material in an online classroom
  • Applying knowledge and research skills to complete online coursework
  • Participating in interactive school assignments
  • Being able to work at your own pace
  • Programs and classes offered in virtual schools are some that are not otherwise available through traditional school settings
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