Large urban school districts creating their own virtual schools
June 14, 2013
The Philadelphia school system will open a new, full-time online school this coming fall, a program that the district promises will offer the academic flexibility and customized learning that many students and families demand.
But district officials also see the virtual program as bringing at least one clear benefit to the city school system itself: the ability to compete.
Leaders of the financially troubled district see the online program as a tool to stave off families’ temptation to choose “cyber charters” and other options outside the district.
In creating its online program, Philadelphia joins a number of other big-city school districts that have founded virtual schools as a way to either add to the list of school choices available to parents or persuade families that have already chosen alternative online programs outside their systems to come back.
“It’s part of a menu to create educational options for parents,” said Fran Newberg, the deputy chief of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the 138,000-student Philadelphia district. “We have families out there that want this option.”
While state-run virtual schools are relatively common, the number of individual districts creating online programs is growing, and that model is likely to be one of the biggest areas of expansion in the online world over the next three years, said Susan Patrick, the president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a Vienna, Va.-based group that is an advocate for virtual education options. Large-city districts are part of that growth, she said.
Urban districts are attempting to meet many of the same needs that other online programs are, such as providing options for students who have struggled academically or behaviorally in regular schools, Ms. Patrick said.
But many larger city school systems are also more likely to be trying to meet the needs of students who are working and need flexible schedules, as well as those who need to recover academic credits and might otherwise be in danger of dropping out.