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Choosing a Virtual School

Virtual education’s popularity is on the rise. Parents have a wide variety of schools to choose from if they decide to enroll their children in a virtual school. This can make choosing a virtual school that's right for your children difficult. This article summarizes five important things to consider when choosing a virtual school for your children.

1. Independent Study vs. Live Instruction

First, review the school’s website and any literature they have to see whether they use a live, online learning environment or if students will learn content in an independent study setting.

There are pros and cons to each. An exhaustive list is outside of the scope of this article. In my experience as a former virtual schoolteacher, high school students can handle independent study with the right amount of supervision from their parents, middle school students cannot. They need the structure that live, online classes provide.

Live, online classes typically use the same virtual meeting software major corporations use to communicate with overseas clients. A link on their teacher’s web page leads students to their virtual classroom. Teachers write or draw on a virtual whiteboard, or they can upload documents or PowerPoint presentations they have prepared.

Parents should decide which learning environment is best for their children first to help them create a more manageable list of schools to choose from.

2. School Accreditation

Outstanding virtual schools will take the time to earn accreditation. If they are accredited, the school will display the logo of the accrediting agency prominently on their website and in their literature. A few examples of accrediting agencies are the National Independent Private Schools Association and the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges.

School accreditation inspections are rigorous if done by a competent agency. If notice a school accreditation logo on their website, take time to visit the accrediting agency’s website and review their accreditation criteria. Most agencies list the steps that schools must pass successfully before the agency will grant accreditation. You will also see an inspection category list the agency uses during inspections. Check the list to see what the agency reviews during inspections to make sure it is comprehensive.

3. Communication

Check to see how the school communicates with students and their parents. Do they post a school newsletter on their website? How often is it posted? Is the newsletter written by school administrators, teachers, or a combination of these? If administrators write the school newsletters, are teachers required to write their own? Are there links to teacher’s newsletters posted on the school’s website? Are they easy to find?

The answers to these questions will tell you how important regular communication is at the school. In general, more is better. In my opinion, a school that distributes newsletters regularly, has a social media presence on networks like Twitter and Facebook, and requires families to attend parent/ teacher conferences by phone or in a virtual classroom is the best choice. Also, ensure that teacher’s E-mail addresses and phone numbers are readily accessible.

4. Teacher's Qualifications

Due to privacy concerns, many schools have chosen not to disclose their teacher’s full names and city/ state of residence publicly. This is understandable. However, you should see a statement that summarizes the faculty’s credentials. You may also be able to see several photos and read brief biographies of teachers who have volunteered to be teacher representatives. These biographies may include the teacher’s school E-mail address as well.

Once families contact a virtual school and indicate they are considering enrollment, the school may be willing to provide specific information about their children’s potential teachers and their credentials. It certainly can’t hurt to ask! Find out how qualified the school’s teaching staff is before committing to enrollment.

5. Curriculum

Finally yet importantly, search the school’s website for a curriculum description. (“Curriculum” means “what is taught”.) Read descriptions for all classes your children will be enrolled in to see what they’ll be learning. Look for pictures of the covers of textbooks they will use and the book’s table of contents.

Next, check to see how the curriculum was chosen and what standards were used to guide its creation. Will the school’s curriculum teach students the same content your state’s board of education lists in their academic standards, or are there content gaps?

An easy way to compare is to open the school’s curriculum on one tab of your Internet browser and a separate tab with your state’s academic standards and compare them side-by-side.

If they don’t match, search the internet for the national academic standards for the subject and grade level to see if these match the school’s curriculum. (For example, an Internet search for “national history standards” leads users to the National Center for History in the Schools, which lists the national history standards broken down by grade level.) Chances are the school used the national standards because their students come from around the United States.

If the virtual school’s curriculum isn’t aligned with your state’s academic standards, there will be learning gaps if there are problems and you need to re-enroll your students in public schools. Learning gaps can make the transition much more stressful for student and parent alike.

Summary

Parents who choose to enroll their children in a virtual school should decide whether their child can handle an independent study – based school or if a live, online classroom is better for them. Further, parents should investigate each potential school’s website and literature to see how they communicate with students and their families, their school accreditation status, teacher’s licensure and credential information, and the curriculum each child will study compared with their state’s academic standards. Once families have narrowed their choice to just a few schools, they should contact the school and ask for more information about the teachers your children will have and their qualifications.

I hope you found this article helpful. Please take a minute to leave a comment, Like this post on Facebook, or Tweet the post via Twitter using the buttons on the right side of my blog page. If you have questions about this article, or if you need advice for your unique situation, feel free to E-mail me using the “E-mail Jeff S.” button on my WyzAnt tutor home page. If you have a topic suggestion, please leave it in the Comment section below. I welcome any feedback you have!

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