By Cait Etherington December 18, 2017
Virtual high schools certainly made headlines in 2017. From coming to the rescue of thousands of displaced students following this fall’s hurricanes to creating new options for students living in rural and isolated communities, virtual high schools not only expanded but gained currency over the course of the past year. Here’s a recap of just some of eLearningInside News‘ top virtual high school stories.
There was once a perception that online high schools will never replace the “real thing”—namely, a quality face-to-face classroom experience. In 2017, this perception is finally shifting, and Stanford Online High School (Stanford OHS) is one of the online secondary schools driving this change. Thanks to its now established track-record and the currency it naturally has due to its affiliation with Stanford University, Stanford OHS continues to prove that an online high school experience can be even more rigorous and engaging than the type of education students typically receive in face-to-face school environments. To learn more, read eLearningInside News‘ recent three part series on Stanford OHS.
Over the course of the past year, Betsy DeVos has continued to make it widely known that she support online education, including virtual high schools. On the one hand, DeVos’s support for virtual schools has been welcome. On the other hand, DeVos’s endorsement has prompted some Americans, especially those opposed to the current administration’s educational mandate, to raise new questions about virtual schools and their regulation. Either way, there appears to be reason to believe that virtual high schools and programs will expand over the coming three years.
Among the top feel-good virtual high schools’ 2017 top stories was Florida Virtual High’s response to students displaced by this fall’s devastating hurricane season. As recently reported on eLearningInside News, following this fall’s hurricanes, thousands of people from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands moved to the mainland United States, with most arriving in Florida. To respond to the sudden influx of an estimated 20,000 students, Florida Virtual School is opening its virtual doors in response. Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS) is a public, online school providing K-12 education at no charge to families. At the moment, they have welcomed thousands of new students are filling a gap that Florida’s brick-and-mortar schools could simply not respond to on such a large scale.
This year, a growing number of states introduced required online learning credits. In 2006, Michigan became the first state to pass an online learning credit requirement for secondary-level graduation. The Michigan Merit Curriculum requires at least one online course or online learning experience for each student. This is not surprising, however, since Michigan was also an early adopter of online learning. Over the past decade, the trend toward required online credits have grown with Florida, Arkansas, Virginia and Alabama adopting similar polices. Given the priorities of the current administration and Betsy DeVos’s specific online education mandate, there is reason to believe that this trend will continue over the coming three years and that we may soon find that online learning credits are are a requirement for high school graduation nationwide.
As more high schools move online, students will not be the only people impacted. In fact, there are moves to use the shift to also change how teachers are compensated. South Carolina’s Horry County Schools’ virtual program, for example, is already offering merit pay to its online teachers based on how many of their students actually complete a course. The system may sound shocking but in fact, it is consistent with a model of education that has been in place in many U.S. states since the 1990s that ties school funding to student performance levels. In this case, of course, the direct impact is not on school budgets but rather an individual teachers’ take-home pay.