Because of progressive nature of public virtual schools, there is a considerable amount of misinformation or inaccurate perceptions about how they work. The following facts should help to clarify.
Are virtual schools public or private?
Public virtual schools are public schools. They are not private schools. Although public virtual schools may contract with private vendors to receive curriculum and management services, public virtual schools are governed by public entities such as public school districts, independent, non-profit charter school boards, and state education agencies.
What about academics and accountability?
Public virtual schools are similar to traditional "bricks and mortar" schools in many ways, including academic services and accountability requirements:
- Teachers are responsible for overseeing and managing student learning, and ensuring that students are meeting all academic progress and accountability requirements.
- All students must participate in state assessment tests.
- All students must meet attendance requirements.
- The schools are subject to federal AYP goals under No Child Left Behind.
- The schools use an established curriculum that consists of thousands of lessons in the core subjects of Math, Language Arts/English, History, Science, Art, and Music. The curriculum aligns with state standards.
- Any eligible student may enroll, regardless of income, race, academic ability, special needs, etc.
- Special education needs, IEPs, and other related services are identified and met by school's special education staff.
- Schools are subject to audits, and state reporting is mandatory.
Are virtual schools homeschools?
Public virtual schools are not homeschools, nor are the students who attend virtual schools considered "homeschooled." In fact, there are many differences between public virtual school and homeschool programs: Public virtual schools:
- Have state-certified public school teachers
- Have state assessment tests
- Have attendance policy and academic progress requirements
- Require a school office for staff
- Have an established curriculum determined by the school that students must follow – (families cannot pick and choose, or eliminate subjects)
- Require school grades, transcripts, report cards and parent conferences
- Require strong school administrators (e.g., principal, assistant principal, special education director, IT)
- Are subject to academic and fiscal accountability requirements
- Strictly adhere to school policies and procedures by way of discipline and due process
What is the role of the virtual school teacher?
Every student is assigned to a state-certified public school teacher in a public virtual school. Teachers work remotely and are responsible for overseeing and managing student learning. Teachers:
- Provide instruction, guidance, and support
- Track student attendance and academic progress
- Evaluate student work
- Develop a strong partnership with parents or responsible adults
- Work in consultation with parents to tecommend remedial or enrichment programs and make placement and promotion decisions
- Communicate regularly with their students via phone, e-mail, and face-to-face meetings, including academic workshops
- Organize social and academic outings; promote school community
- Participate in regular training and professional development
What is the role of the public virtual school parent?
All educators agree that strong parental involvement is extremely important to a child's academic success. In public virtual schools, parents are active participants in their child's education, working in close partnership with teachers. Parents:
- Work closely with their children, guiding them through daily lessons
- Actively participate in their children's daily learning
- Record student academic progress
- Communicate with teachers on a regular basis to assess children's learning, academic achievement, etc.
- Become actively involved in parent groups, workshops, school functions and events, and student activities
How do public virtual school students socialize?
Contrary to belief, public virtual schools offer many opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to come together (offline) to build friendships and lasting relationships within the school community.
Teachers conduct monthly outings—social and academic—for students and their families, and students are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. School-sponsored activities and events might include teachers workshops and parent workshops; community service projects; clubs; field trips; school academic events like spelling bees, science fairs, visits to historical sites, etc.
How are public virtual schools funded?
There are significant costs to operating a high-quality public virtual school:
- On average, public virtual schools receive approximately 30% less funding than traditional schools.
- Unlike traditional public schools, most public virtual schools do not receive local property taxes.
- The majority of costs in a high-quality public virtual school go directly to student instruction.
- Teachers are often the highest expense category.
- Unlike traditional schools, public virtual schools do not have high facility costs. However, the technology and curriculum costs in quality public virtual schools are much higher than in traditional schools.
- Curriculum costs can vary, depending on the quality, depth, rigor, and technological sophistication of the learning program used by the public virtual school.
Not all virtual programs are alike; it's important to know the difference between high-quality, full time, statewide public virtual schools and other programs that offer simple correspondence or supplemental courses. Costs for these types of scaled-down "correspondence" programs are usually significantly less than full-time public virtual schools.
A number of studies have examined the significant costs associated with operating full-time public virtual schools. A 2006 report by Augenblick, Palaich & Associates on behalf of the BellSouth Foundation titled, Costs and Funding of Virtual Schools, concluded that "the operating costs of online programs are about the same as the operating costs of a regular brick and mortar school."