Laboratories of Reform: Virtual High Schools and Innovation in Public Education

Bill Tucker
Education Sector
June 2007

This report makes some persuasive points on behalf of virtual high schools (defined as online programs that supplement traditional schooling options, which currently enroll lots more students than full-time "cyber schools"). According to Tucker, virtual schools offer at least three major benefits. First, they personalize student learning. At the nation's second-largest state-run program, Florida Virtual School (FLVS), for instance, students "can choose a traditional, extended, or accelerated pace for a particular course." A second benefit is that they attract nontraditional teachers. Instructors at the Georgia Virtual School are almost exclusively part-timers. They're "stay-at-home moms, dads, or retirees" who find the flexibility of teaching online more manageable than a traditional teaching career. Moreover, because the virtual classroom is "more transparent" than a traditional classroom, administrators can better monitor its instructors. FLVS has a custom-built student data system that is reviewed frequently by school leaders to monitor teacher performance. (Such systems are still a pipe dream for administrators in many traditional school districts.) Finally, virtual schools encourage performance-based funding models. Again, Florida is a model. At FLVS, "funding is based on students' successful completion of their courses," and "a student's full-time school may not deny access to courses offered by FLVS." This puts a great deal of pressure on FLVS to produce results--a degree of pressure that few traditional schools experience. Tucker still thinks there is room for greater transparency in, and wider access to, virtual schools, but he strongly believes in their power to transform education. Read more here.

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