To understand a virtual charter school, you have to understand what a standard charter school is. Charter schools are public schools, organized differently from traditional public schools, but still operating through public funding.
Students apply and are chosen at random to fill spots (assuming more applications are received than available openings). One of the biggest differences (aside from freedom to choose curriculum, hiring positions, and even ordering supplies) is that students choose to go to these schools rather than being forced into a district-appropriate facility. Virtual charter schools, then, are online “schools” students attend from home, while still being educated by licensed teachers. Here’s a look at some of the key aspects of virtual charter schools.
What is a Virtual Charter School?
Just like every school system, virtual charter schools can vary from state to state. Overall, however, they are online only or mostly online schools under the contract of a school board. Students and teachers may all live quite far apart. Rather than sitting in a classroom all day, students work from home, participating in “chat rooms,” via email, or over telephone calls. Virtual charter schools should not be confused with homeschooling despite the location in which learning occurs.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, “virtual charter schools are publicly funded, nonsectarian schools that are exempt from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools and that offer some of their classes online.” This “public funding” is one of the main concerns for those opposed to virtual schools. While virtual learning certainly offers some major benefits to certain students, cynics argue this takes away funding from the bulk of students still attending traditional public schools. Admittedly, some of these virtual schools are not as effective as they could be; others, however, are doing a great job. Nonetheless, improving virtual charter schools is high on the educational agenda for many.
How do classes work?
Virtual charter schools may not offer the same array of classes a brick and mortar facility offers, a factor many educators wish to address. In some cases, it simply isn’t practical. Music classes or shop classes, for example, require extensive hands-on practice, particularly inside the classroom. By the same token, this can restrict school-run extracurricular activities. Picture a high school marching band run in an online forum. Luckily, many students can participate in extracurriculars through their public school district.
However, not being in a classroom means students can personalize their work—creating specific curriculum or working at a more modified pace. This can be of great benefit to students who work more slowly than the general population. On the opposite side of the spectrum, those students who tend to grasp the concept, along with the next six before the rest of the class, can work ahead.
Who Can Attend Virtual Charter Schools?
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2016 saw 23 states institute 135 virtual schools with nearly 200,000 students. Technically, because virtual charter schools are public, any student can elect to attend online classes. However, while virtual schools allow for remote attendance, some states, such as Wisconsin, only allow free admission to in-state students. Out-of-state students may have the opportunity to “attend,” but parents must pay for tuition. Virtual schools vary not only from state to state but also from school to school. If your child is considering a virtual education, make sure to do plenty of research before making a choice.
Not every student is cut out for a virtual education—and that’s okay. It’s up to the student to get up, get online, and get work done. There’s no hovering teacher pushing for completed work. Because it isn’t homeschooling, there’s not as much alternative interaction learning, nor is it parent-led. There are still a lot of flaws in this very new system, but there is definitely much potential to be achieved.