Welcome to the Wild Wild West.
Remote learning has so many names and configurations it is difficult to characterize and study. Virtual schools, remote learning, online learning, e-learning, blended learning and personalized learning are all names for education programs that, to varying degrees, use technology in a student's education.
This Inside Look deals with full-time virtual schools. Next week, we will tackle various part-time programs - often called personalized learning or blended learning.
Full-time virtual schools offer programs with no brick and mortar component for the student. Teachers interact with students exclusively online. These are often run by private for-profit companies such as K12 Inc. whose CEO reportedly makes over $2 million per year. In many states, they are funded by taxpayers as public charter schools. Typically, there is minimal government oversight. Profits are high because expenses are low; teachers often have very high student caseloads, and there is no rent for student facilities, no extra-curricular activities, no library, no student transportation, etc. These schools often receive the same per-pupil state reimbursement as a traditional school.
The most recent NEPC Virtual Schools Report states, "The available research has consistently found that students enrolled in full-time virtual schools perform at levels well below their counterparts in face-to-face schools. Recent research indicates that schools that provide a combination of virtual and face-to-face curriculum and instruction (i.e., blended schools) also perform at low levels compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Finally, research also suggests that both virtual schools and blended schools may be more economical than traditional public schools."
Overall, the academic performance of full-time virtual schools has been abysmal. Yet state legislatures have expanded them with little or no oversight.
In fact, the National Alliance for Charter Schools stated: “Most striking and troubling in these reports is the finding of large-scale underperformance by full-time virtual charter schools. If traditional public schools were producing such results, we would rightly be outraged. We should not feel any different just because these are charter schools."