Putting Education Reform To The Test

Florida’s Fastest Growing Public School District is … Online

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Florida Virtual School students can log on to their courses at any time and their teachers do not need to be online the same their students are.

School is canceled for many Florida students due to weather conditions brought on by Tropical Storm Isaac.

Students in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, and other counties get to stay home today.

But other students in the state never have to leave their homes – or even  get out of their pajamas – to attend a very different type of public school.

This year, an estimated 5,000 students are expected to enroll as full-time Florida Virtual School students.

The online program is considered its own public school district in the state. And its enrollment projections show a 50 percent increase from the year before.

About 2,700,000 students are expected to enroll in traditional public schools in Florida this year.

USA Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman — the U.S. women’s gymnastics team captain from Needham, Massachusetts — is a full-time Florida Virtual School Global alum. She finished her studies through the online program to focus on her Olympic training, according to FLVS’s Facebook page.

It is the second year FLVS offers full-time enrollment for K-12 students and full-time home school courses for students in grades 6-12.

Home school students who use FLVS programs do not get a diploma from the online school, and it does not act as a school of record for those students.

Full-time FLVS students who are not home schooled call the online program their public school district of record.

Those students follow the traditional 180-day school calendar; get report cards and a diploma from FLVS Full-Time.

Esilda Ross is the lead principal for full-time K-8 students. In a media release, she said the virtual school is rolling out new curriculum this year — like Julliard eLearning.

“The first ever online courses in music and performing arts from the world-famous conservatory,” Ross said.

“And we have some great ‘Lab Investigator’ digital science tools,” she said. “The students are going to love them.”

Students getting an education in the performing arts or sciences from behind a computer screen have frequent interaction with their teachers, according to the press release.

The Goal: Academic Independence

Full-time Virtual School students are supposed to work from home with a parent or other “learning coach” along with their licensed Florida teacher online.

The learning coach is expected to take attendance and provide on-site supervision and support.

The program is designed to eventually diminish the hands-on role of the parent or learning coach in the learning process, according to its website.

The goal is to eventually pave the way to academic independence.

The online school has drawn both praise and concern — Praise over the flexibility and concern over the lack of information about student expectations, and lag-time in hearing back from teachers.

Virtual School teachers are also chiming in with staff reviews on sites like Glassdoor.

Teachers have left complaints citing IT issues and feelings of being abandoned at the post with a high workload, amongst other complaints.

Flexibility is a clear advantage of the program for students whose lives require individualized schedules.

But some teachers have complained that because students have so much flexibility, they do not.

Teachers have to answer students at all hours and days.



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