Virtual Schools in CA and FL – Observations and Concerns

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LicenseAttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Anthony Albright

This post is adapted from an assignment for one of my graduate classes. I thought the content was relevant and interesting enough to post here. I read the excellent report by Gene Glass and watched several videos, including the two below, about virtual schools.

The Realities of K-12 Virtual Education:  http://epicpolicy.org/publication/realities-K-12-virtual-education
Glass, Gene V. (2009). The realities of K-12 virtual education.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.

News story about California Virtual School:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu5SMhuK-Bo&feature=related

Another news story about California Virtual School:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28j2DXEV7hw&feature=related

The California Virtual School is a public charter school that offers full-time online schooling. They use the K12 curriculum and are accountable to the state for attendance and student performance on standardized tests. In turn, the virtual school is paid a per student allowance like any other public school in the state. As we see from Glass’s report, some states have begun reducing the funds to public virtual schools, although they are small reductions. I found it interesting that so many of these virtual schools are using a common curriculum. It reminds me of the move to Common Core around the country. This is definitely a concern of mine. Even though I see the value of having common expectations, I do not think that detailed, common curriculum across the country is the best solution.

The California Virtual School provides students with the materials that they need for each unit. The news reports that I watched featured science lessons with rocks, test tubes, and textbooks provided. This does seem fair, as a student in a regular public school would most likely not have to purchase scientific equipment and textbooks. What concerns me, from a journalistic point of view, is that the news reports were presenting this fact as if it was a wonderful benefit over regular public schools, rather than just a basic expectation of equality with regular public schools students. It is no wonder the K12 Online corporation features these reports on their YouTube channel.

The students in these videos speak about the advantages of convenience, including sleeping later, working from home, and working on their own schedule. Students also spoke about being able to work at their own pace. Most students in these videos mention not being held back by others in the traditional classroom as a benefit. There were no cases where students said that they could work more slowly than in regular school.

Parents and teachers addressed the perceived disadvantage of students lacking in socialization. Parents and students noted that with online education they actually had more time to participate in other activities that involved socializing with other young people. The California Virtual School does have a clever idea to offer more socialization, as well. They offer periodic local events with Virtual School teachers where students can meet with their teacher, other teachers, and students to just hang out. I think this can benefit any student or parent who is feeling a lack of connection.

As I find myself very much benefitting from, and learning a great deal from, online education, I am open to the idea of full-time online education for K-12 students. I think it was especially appropriate for the young girl who travels very often for tennis training and competition. Certainly, it should not be forced on anyone, as this is not a situation that is valuable for everyone. I teach in Florida, and the state has gone beyond what is stated in the Glass report. Beginning with last year’s freshman class, students are now required to take at least one online course before they graduate. Having these courses available to all students is different than mandating that they participate. Some students just will not benefit from that environment, just like some students will excel in an online class.

One of my big concerns that I have not yet mentioned relates to the financial side of this issue. The rise of powerful corporate interests in online (and traditional) education makes me very nervous. For instance, I would not be surprised to learn that private online schools in Florida were behind the legislation to require students to enroll in classes. I am also concerned about virtual schools getting the same amount of funding per student as other public schools. I will admit that I do not know the financial details of running a virtual school, but they must be less costly than having so many physical locations. Online programs can be, and should be, an excellent opportunity to reduce overall education costs, in turn preventing budget cuts that hurt students. If we provide these schools with the same funding, we may promote wasteful spending, or contribute to high corporate profits. I do agree with legislation cited in the Glass report that aimed to prevent education funding going to any type of profits.

It was eye-opening for me to read about the predominance of virtual schools being used for credit recovery. It should not have been a surprise to me, though. After reading the Glass report, I realized that the high school I work in uses online classes in this very way. Many students take classes through Florida Virtual School to make up credits that they have failed or cannot take at school. It is amazing how many students have issues transferring credits from out of state, so the online classes are very useful for them to make up course requirements that they are missing. We also use Novel Stars, which now looks like it is called the Star Suite. I do not know much about it other than that it is another option for online learning for our students.

I think online learning is a fantastic opportunity to expand learning for some students and reinvest education funding in a more efficient way. To produce the most benefit, we need to resist mandating online education for all students and exclude corporate profit interests from online public education.

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