May 20, 2021 2:47 PM EST

Full-Time Virtual Schools: Still Growing, Still Struggling, Still Resisting Oversight

The invasion of Covid-19, a deadly virus, in our world changed our lifestyle altogether. Most of our day-to-day activities became online. The Internet helped us carry out our daily routine as usual but with a twist.

Full-Time Virtual Schools: Still Growing, Still Struggling, Still Resisting Oversight

At first, it was very difficult for people to get accustomed to everything shifting online. But with time, they managed, and some liked it. One of the most significant adaptations of online life was Virtual Schooling.

Students of all age groups and standards were made to attend online classes. At first, everyone faced extreme difficulty, from teachers to students. Even today, after 1.5 years into the pandemic, some students still complain that online classes are not very productive and have taken a toll on students' mental health. Online learning has also provided numerous benefits, especially with essay writing. I write my essay often with the help of internet and online experts that are available on these sites.

Nobody had thought about Virtual Schools before the pandemic hit us, although there were numerous learning sources. People were gaining knowledge using those sources, but no one had ever imagined that we would feel the need for Full-Time Virtual Schools one day.

Today, however, regardless of the difficulties of online learning and struggles, admissions in online schools have increased. ‘The growth of this sector has continued despite scant research to support it and continued poor overall performance,’ said the authors of the report titled Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021. It was released on May 6 by the National Education Policy Center. This Organization is left-leaning and a huge critic of online learning.

It was also mentioned that ‘Policymakers have yet to adequately address six pressing areas of concern related to virtual schools: their governance, funding, accountability, curriculum, instruction quality, and teacher quality.’ In the U.S. alone, a total of 332,379 students were enrolled in 477 full-time virtual schools in the year 2019-20. Another type of schools called blended schools that include online, and face-to-face learning also enrolled about 152,530 students. Since 2017-18, the enrollment of students in full-time virtual schools and blended schools has increased by more than 50,000 students.

 Although the systematic data is not included in this year's NEPC report because it is not yet available, all the evidence suggests that the enrollments in the full-time virtual schools have gone up. Annual reviews of the NEPC report about K-12 online education for the past decade have also been released. The available data points towards poor academic performance across the entire sector. The reporters also found that the graduation rate in full-time virtual schools in 2019-20 was just 54.6 percent. It is 30 points lower than the national rate.

 The full-time virtual schools that got accepted by the ratings of their state accountability systems were even less than 43 percent. All this data is based on years of journalistic investigations and academic research that have repeatedly highlighted the poor academic performance and financial mismanagement in this department of the nation's public education system. We cannot say that the NEPC report was all bad.

It said that the blended schools performed better than full-time virtual schools. It also stated that the virtual schools operated by non-profit groups or districts performed better than those run by for-profit education management organizations. If we compare at the state level, Florida's online schools are doing rather well.

 Out of 29 schools, their 16 schools received the 'A' ratings by the State's Accountability System. However, irrespective of the years of pushing by the critics and the researchers, the efforts of state legislatures to overhaul the online school's funding or holding them accountable seems waning. For example, only four bills in the past two years have sought to improve the monitoring of virtual course quality. Out of these five, the three failed because they did not gain enough votes to be enacted into the law.

 The NEPC report also states that ‘Legislators did not necessarily think deeply about how to address remote learning needs, nor did they try to change the existing structure of virtual schooling; instead, they designed emergency bills aimed at putting a band-aid on the hemorrhaging issues.’

The Education Week took an in-depth look at the full-time online charter schools in 2016. Its main purpose was to find a sector plagued by poor academic performance and management issues, particularly in the schools run by for-profit organizations. NEPC has found that such companies continue to dominate the online learning system. The two largest—K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, which operate a combined 115 full-time virtual schools—have now worked for about twenty years. Nearly 6 in 10 full-time virtual students are being taught by the for-profit organizations, despite operating in 3 out of 10 virtual schools.

On average, a for-profit virtual school enrolls about 1,384 students compared to the roughly estimated 400 students for the average full-time online non-profit schools. Based on the available information, NEPC identified some trends. It noted that full-time virtual schools enroll far fewer students with special needs (6.7 percent vs. 13.1 percent national average) and an ever-lower percentage of students learning English (2.5 percent vs. 9.6 percent). On the other hand, Blended schools showed a higher percentage of English learners, low-income students, and Hispanic compared to the K-12 Schools.

Although hundreds of districts intend to continue online learning even after the pandemic is over, a countervailing trend might take root.

Hopefully this article will clear up things for you. Thank you for reading!