All-online schooling is growing in popularity, despite weak performance by students, writes Hechinger’s Chris Berdik in WIRED.
However, New Hampshire’s self-paced Virtual Learning Academy Charter School is an online success story, he writes. With a “focus on building strong student-teacher relationships,” VLACS boasts full-time virtual students who do as well or better than the New Hampshire average in reading and math and on the SAT.
Most virtual schools are paid based on enrollment, leading to arguments about whether a student is really “in attendance.” VLACS, a nonprofit, is paid when students show mastery of specific skills and abilities. Students use “a personalized blend of traditional lesson plans, offline projects and real-world experiences” to learn “competencies.”
Students do the bulk of their learning independently. They make their own way through online lessons, digital texts and multimedia, and follow links to extra, explanatory resources. They upload all their work. Yet the students and parents interviewed for this story said that they have more one-on-one interactions with teachers than they did in traditional schools.
(PE/wellness teacher Lisa) Kent opened her laptop to show the dashboard that tracks her students. She can sort them by grade or by the last time they logged into class, submitted work or checked in with her. If a student has been inactive for more than a week, Kent will reach out to see if everything’s OK.
VLACS doesn’t assume parents will serve as teachers and tutors.
Students are also matched with a guidance counselor and an academic adviser who help them create and follow a “C3” (short for college, career and citizenship) readiness plan. . . . tutoring is available through four “skills coaches.”
New Hampshire requires high schools to offer credit for mastering competencies rather than “seat time,” writes Berdik. That opened the door to VLACS.
Here are three recommendations for improving online charter schools.
“Competency-based funding would place the emphasis where it belongs — on student learning and mastery, rather than on whether a child is logged into a computer,” said Fordham’s Chad Aldis in response to a proposal to change Ohio’s funding of virtual schools.