With online classes becoming more widely available for elementary and secondary students in Virginia, participation and enrollment are starting to grow. Last year, 119 school divisions provided online instruction. A month ago, the Carroll County Public Schools were approved by the Virginia Board of Education to begin the commonwealth’s full-time online school.
Carroll County is offering an online school serving kindergarten through eighth grade, called the Virginia Virtual Academy, to all Virginia students. The instruction is provided by one of the biggest companies in online provision, K12, which has more than 80,000 full-time enrolled students across the country. The Virginia Virtual Academy is a full-time and tuition-free online public school taught by state-certified teachers. It has grown to 400 students. Offerings include an Advanced Learner Program and a variety of extracurricular activities.
To date, 19 online education providers have been approved to operate in multiple school divisions. In 2010, the Virginia General Assembly approved legislation paving the way for online education that included statewide virtual schools. While questions remain over whether these programs will receive adequate funding levels to ensure quality and sustainability, their growing popularity should help this innovative and interactive instructional tool.
Earlier this year, the state took another important step forward when Governor Bob McDonnell approved legislation directing the state Board of Education to establish standards of accreditation for virtual public schools, along with establishing important definitions in law. For now, the growth of virtual schools in Virginia largely depends on the willingness of local school boards to take the initiative to approve them at sufficient funding levels. Certainly, the growth of these programs, like other education innovations, may be threatened by budget cuts.
The expansion of virtual learning is important to the continued improvement of the school system overall in Virginia. Examples of currently-offered classes include Advanced Placement offerings in physics, calculus, statistics and art history (Connections Learning); Chinese I, II and II as well as AP macro and micro economics, psychology and U.S. history (Florida Virtual School), and visual arts, music, and physical education at multiple grade levels to complement core subjects (K12 Virtual Schools).
Such offerings also present cost-effective options for small or rural school divisions seeking to provide a full array of classes to their students. Further, it may also assist students that are taking courses for optional learning are not merely taking courses, but they are taking courses and getting credit for it.
Virtual education remains a new concept for Virginia, and it is to be expected that its growth has been uneven. Blended learning, where the strengths of online learning are harnessed in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting, have yet to take hold here. But as more school officials, as well as students and families, come to recognize the benefits of these approaches, there is much to be gained educationally across the commonwealth.
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