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Is a “Virtual School” the Right Choice for Your Child?

05/16/08
by Pam Wright

After reading David’s post about his son attending a virtual school [at http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/?p=23 ], we realized we needed to learn more about “Virtual Schools.” After doing some research, we learned about some of the pros and cons of virtual schools, and how parents should proceed when considering a virtual school.

Parents tend to be positive about virtual schools. One parent described the virtual school her 6th-grader attends “as the 21st-century, middle-class version of the private tutor.” Her child can move quickly through her strong subjects, and spend more time on her weaker areas, like math.

But … there’s a catch.

Because virtual schools are so new, there has been little research to measures the quality of the programs or determine which students benefit from them. One expert expressed these concerns: “There has been no valid study showing that children participating in virtual or computer-based learning models are performing any better than in traditional schools.”

Some experts say the programs don’t have enough oversight – for example, tracking attendance. Most states require a minimum number of hours of instruction. At some virtual schools, parents to submit a weekly log of their child’s hours. Computer log-ins provide some objective accounting. A better way to account for learning may be to keep track of course material completed, not number of hours of instruction.

What counts as learning time may not be clear. A teacher at one virtual school said that a family’s Bible reading would count. But the state official who oversees virtual schools for that state says parents can’t count time spent on curriculum not provided by the school.

According to the North American Council for Online Learning [http://www.nacol.org/], enrollment in online classes reached the 1 million mark last year. Some experts predict that by 2019 half of courses in Grades 9 to 12 will be delivered online.

Virtual schools may be like other educational models – good for some kids, not for others. Before deciding to enroll your child in a virtual school, you need educate yourself. Spend time learning about the pros and cons of virtual schools – and about the particular school you are considering. Talk to other parents whose children attend the school. Since virtual schools are held to the same standards as “regular” schools under NCLB, ask to see the virtual school’s report card. ~ Pam

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Cathy 08/12/13 at 9:46 pm

    Is there help through her IEP eligibility so she can get her high school diploma online if you want your child to do online school at home.

  • 2 David1 07/31/13 at 7:16 pm

    “But there’s a catch” update.

    Back in 2008, Virtual schools were relatively new and it was not clear if meaningful learning could occur using this platform.

    Let’s use a signed agreement form 2006 where my son’s academic progress was at -0- in April of that year.

    In 2008, my son entered a private school where he continued to take Spanish and Algebra that had started via virtual school. His Senior year, he took Spanish III and Cal/trig. My son graduated #8 out of 424 high schools seniors in the public school. My son currently a 3.87 GPA while earning his Associates degree Computer Science degree. He plans to transfer and start earning his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering during the upcoming school year.

    My Daughter has since enrolled in Connections academy where she graduated a year ahead of schedule.

    I’m a fan

  • 3 kathy 07/30/13 at 6:57 pm

    My son is and has been bullied for the last 3 years in private catholic, private Lutheran and public schools so I am considering virtual school for his 5th grade education. I know he has a very low self esteem problem now, thinks every one hates him, has no friends, constantly picked on and has no support from the school to get it to stop.

  • 4 Jessica 02/14/13 at 9:50 pm

    I’ve heard a lot of about Florida Virtual that has me concerned. One of few points is my son’s only in 1st grade, but he’s begging to be home schooled. We’ve discussed about how he won’t get to play with his friends or that there won’t be fun things like classroom parties. He still wants to do it regardless because school just stresses him out that badly. He’s in an I.E.P. and his reading/writing skills are still down in the 18% averages after 2 years of help, but his math skills are in the 98% averages, with no help. They only moved him to 1st grade because of his math and the fact that he’s really mature for his age. He really needs a curriculum that allows him to pace himself more than a controlled module that forces him to be part of an average learning pace. I don’t think parents can find this in the Virtual System.

  • 5 Suzanne 05/19/10 at 3:23 pm

    I live in rural Virginia. And…finally virtual schools are here in Virginia as a choice for students!! I like your suggestion to spend time learning the pros and cons of virtual schools by talking to other parents. Parents can give you the real story about how it is working for them and also give suggestions on what they would have done if they had it to do over again.

  • 6 Andrea 01/13/10 at 11:13 am

    Our district has a more flexible virtual program for middle and high schoolers, but a more strict one for the Elementary students. It is very new at that level, so the kinks have not been ironed out yet.

  • 7 Yolanda 01/12/10 at 12:20 pm

    My child attends Florida Virtual, which I believe is available to any student in the nation. In the past we have taken classes with a simple OK from the guidance counselor; however, this year we are attending ground school part-time and FL Virtual part-time and needed the “IEP team” approval. I think this is WRONG, even though it was approved. The IEP team can be created by the district and can be told to say whatever the district wants to say.
    As far as the virtual classes, children with an IEP can choose the extended pace which extends the class out to a full year, or they can take it very quickly, depending on their level.

  • 8 Andrea 01/12/10 at 11:35 am

    My question is one of access.

    Virtual school is available as a choice for most students in my area, but I am told that for a child with an IEP, one cannot just sign up. A special IEP meeting must be held, and the team must decide if virtual school is in the best interest of the child. This team would likely include the child’s teachers.
    I am also told that the virtual school cannot modify the curriculum–that the curriculum for that grade must be completed within the school year or the virtual school will not be paid. There is no incentive for the virtual school to have consultation by special ed teachers, or any cross grade offerings (ex. Math in 1st grade level, Reading at third). My kid’s a computer whiz w/an IEP.
    Is this kosher? Are there any rules about the minimum amount of access a program must give to kids with IEP’