Virtual schooling has a bad reputation, writes Ian Kingsbury, a senior fellow at the Educational Freedom Institute, in City Journal. Researchers have found low achievement and a high dropout rate.
So why does enrollment keep growing? He suspects that what doesn't work for most students may prove "effective, even essential, for others."
"Demand for virtual schools is often driven by concern about transparency and the transmission of values, as well as bullying and lack of safety in brick-and-mortar schools," he writes. "For some students, including those struggling with drug addiction, unique health challenges, or homelessness, these schools represent their lone chance at obtaining a high school diploma."
It's very hard to compare virtual students to in-person students based on demographics, Kingsbury points out. Those who choose a virtual school are far more likely to have academic, social and emotional problems.
In a recent EdChoice report, 48 percent of parents of students in the largest virtual charter network report said that bullying was a problem at their child's previous school, compared to 27 percent of parents whose child switched to a brick-and-mortar school.
While online teaching proved unpopular for most students when schools were closed, some saw it as a haven from social pressures, Faith Karimi reported for CNN.
“For children with social anxiety, virtual learning took away the social pressures to look or act a certain way,” said Robyn Mehlenbeck, director of the Center for Psychological Services at George Mason University. “There were fewer pressures to dress a certain way, cameras were often off so no one could see their expressions and there was less pressure to verbally participate in front of others.”
Shun Jester, 10, said he opted to stay online to avoid schoolyard bullies.
New York City plans to establish two virtual schools for students who just don't want to go to physical schools. They "are likely to feature low levels of observed achievement and high rates of mobility," Kingsbury writes. But, for some families, "virtual schools represent a vital option."