As it spread Coronovirus has wreaked havoc on school districts’ plans to offer personalized instruction this fall, with some parents beginning to explore whether a K-12 online school would be a better option.
But if parents want to move their children from a traditional school district to a full-time cyber school, then flip the switch is not as easy. They will need to consult with local – and possibly state – education officials, determine costs, and decide if they and their children are ready for a new way of learning.
Here’s what you need to know about virtual schools – what they are, how you can determine which might be right for you, and the level of students and parents needed for success.
Online schools provide digital education to students. Options range from online courses that complement the offerings of the local school district to children from full-time virtual schools that can attend from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Virtual schools started in the mid-1990s, Richard E. Ferdig, Summit Professor of Learning Technologies and Professor of Educational Technology at Kent State University. At the time, online schooling was more common at the middle and high school levels, partly because people felt it would be too difficult or put too much pressure on parents to provide virtual learning for lower grades. But some of today’s virtual offerings completely cover the K-12 curriculum.
Here are the types of virtual schools:
All-online school. All virtual schools are allowed to operate in districts in 32 states, and by 2020 approximately 375,000 students are enrolled in these schools. Report good By Digital Learning Collaborative, a group of organizations and companies providing data, information and best practices for virtual learning.
Most full-time virtual schools are charter schools that can serve the entire state, or they can be run by school districts. A virtual school schedule may be less rigorous, but these schools still offer classes during a typical school year. Virtual models are often used by students who require scheduling flexibility – such as high-level athletes or recreation and performers – former home school students, or students who may have mental or physical health needs , Which make virtual learning a good option.
For-profit companies may offer K-12 virtual schools in your state or partner with another organization, such as an athletic training facility, arts academy, or home-school cooperative. Companies can also operate charter schools on behalf of the local university, for example, or provide a private school option.
Hybrid School. A hybrid school has a physical location where students can learn on-site, but students do not have to attend in person regularly and can take online classes. These are less common than all-virtual schools and are often attended by students who are pursuing jobs, internships or college credits or who are required to hold academically.
Complement. These schools offer online courses – with an online teacher – that coincides with a school semester, often when a student is taking classes at a brick-and-mortar school. State virtual schools are located in more than 20 states. Most serve middle and high school students, while some offer courses for K-12.
“Parents considering online learning need to realize that not all programs are created equal,” Ferdig says. “Some draw on 25 years of research-based best practices, and some were – and still are – an attempt to do this in an unfair way.”
The experience of some online schools in digital education may give them an edge over school districts that began in just 2020 to offer distance education.
A well-run virtual school will offer quality content created by teachers with participation in instructional design and web development, Jamie Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of Michigan Virtual, a nonprofit focused on digital learning and learning . For example, schools need to develop content that can be understood by all students, including people with hearing or visual disabilities.
Top virtual schools also have teachers who engage virtually with students. Most teachers know how to build relationships with students in the classroom, “but how do you develop a relationship with a student you’ve never seen?” Says Fitzpatrick, whose school provided 30,000 online courses for students in about 400 schools in Michigan in the 2018-2019 school year.
Virtual schools encourage parents or guardians to act as learning coaches. They provide experienced staff, such as experienced special education professionals and team members, who can help test and improve students’ results, says Carey Rice, professor in the Department of Educational Technology at Boise State University.
“You may also find that virtual schools arrange teacher support in unique ways. For example, they can assign a teacher to a family rather than individual students by grade to better optimize resources , ”Says Rice.
“They can focus more on mastery education and seat time as a measure of learning – it will depend to a large extent on state regulations for attendance,” she adds. “The primary responsibility for instruction, testing and reporting of grades, report cards, diplomas, and state results lies with the online school.”
Full-time virtual school also differs from home schooling, where a student may take some – or all – of the classes online, but will not take the support services available through the virtual school.
“Home schooling is different in terms of how parents are responsible for meeting state-level requirements and deciding on the curriculum and delivering it,” says Rice. “In other words, the responsibility of delivering the curriculum rests with the parent.”
Parents or guardians need to play an important supporting role with students’ virtual learning, no matter the grade level.
“You are deciding to play a role in your child’s education, beyond simply placing them in front of a bus or machine and saying, ‘Have fun. When you’re done with your classes, watch out.” .
Online teachers rely on mentor support for the success of students. When the student is in a hybrid program, the virtual school will work with an on-site staff member at a brick-and-mortar school to check on a student’s progress. But if the student is in an all-virtual school, the parent or guardian often has to engage with the student in the home.
“Parents need to stay organized and disciplined to make it effective,” Rice says. “The younger the child, the more involved the parent is.”
Parents can help children learn organization and time management skills, says Ferdig, by knowing the expectations for each class, understanding the type of support available.
With virtual learning, parents are required to be in a supporting role, not trying to be teachers.
“This often happens in online learning where parents are much more involved,” Ferdig says. “Such over-involvement hurts the student in many ways, including not allowing the teacher to see the child’s true needs or skills.”
Before enrolling your child in a virtual school program, parents should determine if it suits the child’s learning style.
“We know that students who are intrinsically motivated and have good management / organizational skills will do better than those who are uneducated,” says Ferdig. “Parents need to have an honest eye on their child and the skills or needs that bring them into the experience. They should have an open and honest conversation with the virtual school, which consider helping to determine Doing whether online learning is right for their child. “
The cost of a public virtual school can be free, as would a brick-and-mortar public school. But if parents choose a private school, the cost will vary.
It is a good idea to check with your local school district, regional education association or state education office to learn about approved school options, says Rice. Or, parents can decide that it is best to enroll their students in a private virtual school.
“Parents can always choose to go to an online program,” Ferdig says. “Now it just becomes a question of who is funding.”
Enrollment policies vary with virtual schools.
“If the school uses rolling enrollment, which means that students can enroll over an extended period of time, then there may be fewer opportunities for real-time, direct instruction,” says Rice. “These types of programs are more self-sufficient with targeted interventions when needed.”
Parents should learn what state and federal recognition is in virtual schools, especially if a parent enrolls a student in a private school that is responsible for complying with state regulations.
National identifiers include the Cognia and Middle States Association commissions on primary and secondary schools. A variety of regional types are recognized.
“Accreditation can be extremely important for college acceptance and admission, but also to ensure that a school meets the standards for quality outlined by its accreditation agency,” says Rice. Virtual schools are accredited by the same agencies that review traditional schools.
In addition to checking school accreditation, parents need to ensure that the virtual school will meet the state’s K-12 educational needs.
Other questions parents may ask include:
- What does the school provide to students with special needs? An important consideration is whether the school incorporates Universal Design for Learning Standards. “You want to look for schools that have dedicated staff with special needs and who have the ability to provide services and therapy within a short distance,” says Rice. “This may include services such as speech therapy through a zoom session, or a partnership between online and traditional schools or other community resources that can provide services in a brick-and-mortar facility.”
- Are teachers certified, and what kind of training do they receive?
- Does the school have special expectations from a parent or guardian / caregiver who will help the student?
- What are the expectations for technology, and will the family be responsible for providing it?
- How much time will students spend online, and what other activities will they engage in?
Rice also recommends that parents learn more about the school:
- Talk to the parent who is enrolled in the school you are considering.
- Reviewing parents’ surveys and feedback.
- Asking for student outcome data and any plans to increase results that are lower than expected.
- The Parenting School Handbook for information outlining parent, student, and school responsibilities.
“What you want are schools that play an active role in the learning process – they don’t just provide courses and a computer,” Rice says. “You will want to make sure that you have the necessary support.”