When I listen to face to face teachers and administrators talk about virtual schools, there is typically a level of nervousness that if face to face schools embrace virtual schools and enroll their students in them, that the virtual schools will somehow eventually replace the need for face to face learning. While there are certainly a small number of students for whom a full time enrollment in a virtual school would be beneficial, most students enjoy the social environment of a face to face school and will use virtual schools to fill specific needs in their education. If face to face schools and virtual schools try to compete for students, I believe both will lose. But what if the two truly partner in an effort to provide the best educational experience for the STUDENT? Below are some very real ways that virtual schools can provide support for face to face schools and if done well by both the virtual and F2F, can be very powerful:
- Virtual Schools can act as en extension of the F2F course catalog. At the NC Virtual Public School (NCVPS) we offer an extensive list of AP, Honors, and World Language courses in addition to the general and elective courses. For much of NC, there are many courses that we offer that many high schools do not have enough individual students to offer F2F. Therefore, students do not have to settle for what is available at their F2F school, they can team up with other students from across the state to take courses that are of interest to them.
- Credit Recovery when students need it. Many schools struggle to provide credit recovery programs during the summer in a face to face setting. Some have purchased very expensive online programs to help students recover the credit during the school year. Virtual Schools can (or should) often provide these credit recovery opportunities to students free of charge. The Credit Recovery courses at NCVPS take a mastery approach to learning which means that students pre test for a module and only spend time on the items they have not yet mastered and can therefore proceed through a course as fast or as slow as they need. I am a strong believer in the concept that we should not wait for students to fail an entire course before they are provided an opportunity to recover units of credit. I would love to work towards a model of recovery in which students who struggle with a particular unit of study can drop into the credit recovery course, take only that unit and then get back on track in their face to face class. As a former math teacher, I wish I'd had this kind of intervention for my students.
- Providing high quality teachers at a time of need. How many times do F2F schools start the school year and then have a high quality teacher leave at some point during the school year? And then have to find another high quality teacher to replace them - and end up settling for the warm body that happened to be available? As a virtual school, we have access to high quality teachers from across the state and have been able to support schools by creating a new section of a course in the middle of the school year (or quarter) and contracting with a high quality online teacher in the subject area to teach the school's students for the rest of the semester or year as needed. The F2F school commits to keeping those students online for the remainder of the course and they can do a new search for a high quality teacher when the natural hiring cycle resumes.
- Provides 21st century skills to students AND teachers. The NC State Board of Education has revised its goals to focus on future ready students where students and teachers develop strong 21st century skills. Districts have had to revise their strategic plans to address this new area of focus and in some cases struggle to implement this vision. Here is another way virtual schools can provide a support. Schools who encourage their F2F teachers to also contract with virtual schools to teach online end up with teachers who greatly improve their skill set at using virtual tools for instruction which inevitably improves their F2F teaching. Additionally, students who participate in online courses learn to learn, create, and collaborate with others regardless of geography and time. This is an extremely valuable skill for our 21st century students who will likely have to do exactly this type of activity in their careers after school.
These are but four examples, but the point is that none of them takes away from the F2F school, but rather supports it by making it a stronger institution because it is able to provide quality educational offerings to a variety of students. Thinking of this relationship as supportive rather than competitive is key and is critical if we are to truly prepare our students for a future none of us can yet define.