At virtual schools, students are taught with material primarily or completely provided online. Students interact with classmates and teachers online, and coursework, at all levels, is done online. Students complete work at their own pace and interact with teachers in person much less often than at traditional schools.
Content for virtual schools is generally created by outside providers, both for-profit and non-profit. Private educational content providers, like K12 or Connections Education, abide by guidelines established by the state when creating educational material.
These content providers create lessons, homework, and other educational materials which are uploaded to an Educational Management System for students to access.
Most full-time virtual schools are not operated by outside content providers and are instead
overseen by the district or state, according to the National Education Policy Center.
In Massachusetts, there is currently one full-time virtual school, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy in Greenfield (MAVA). This fall, The Education Cooperative’s Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA) will open serving Dedham and 13 other surrounding school districts.
In January 2013, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation allowing the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to ten virtual schools by 2020.
Despite the legislation, Massachusetts has been wary of virtual schools. In 2012-13, 30 percent of MAVA students received “warning/failing” marks in mathematics MCAS results and 63 percent received “needs improvement” in science and technology last spring.
The first virtual schools appeared in the mid-1990s. The earliest incarnations were part-time institutions, offering only supplemental courses for interested high schoolers. In 1997, Florida introduced the first full-time school, where students take their full course load online rather than in a physical school, at the Florida Virtual School.
Typically students with physical, geographical or work limitations or students who wish to move at a faster pace enroll in virtual schools.