Parents seeking an alternative to public education have often selected homeschooling. Within the past decade, their options have expanded to include online courses. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, Virginia-based K12, Inc. is “leading a national movement to replace classrooms with computers.” While the company originally intended to provide a resource network for home-schooled students, it now provides flexible schooling for those who may not fit into the mainstream education system: “high achievers, strugglers, dropouts, teenage parents and victims of bullying among them.”
At least 250,000 students in thirty states currently engage in some form of virtual education. K12 represents a large portion of that number. “K12 would rank among the 30 largest of the nation’s 1,500 districts. The company, which began in two states a decade ago, now teaches about 95,000 students in virtual schools in 29 states and the District of Columbia.” Business is booming, as the company reported a 36% increase in revenue over last year.
According to the K12 website, parents and students can choose from a wide variety of free courses or programs online. “Students take courses online with support from their teacher via phone, online Web meetings, and sometimes even face to face. The parent (or “Learning Coach”) keeps the student on track in line with the provided lessons plans. While courses are delivered online, the schools provide plenty of opportunities to connect online and offline with a vibrant school community.” Parental involvement decreases as students progress, but they should expect that their children will spend five to six hours per day on academic work.
However, most American parents and educators still question the value of virtual education. They are uncomfortable with the prospect of isolating children in front of a computer for a large portion of a day. They prefer a “brick and mortar” academic environment in which students interact with teachers and peers. They claim that socialization is a large part of learning. The debate will certainly continue as more opportunities for school choice emerge.