Virtual Schools Turn to K12 for Content

Published April 1, 2009

As students and parents seek alternatives to traditional public schools, many are turning to online programs—such as K12, Inc., an online curriculum developer and provider based in Herndon, Virginia—to replace or supplement traditional education programs.

The eight-year-old firm provides virtual instruction to more than 50,000 students in 21 states and the District of Columbia, in partnership with some bricks-and-mortar schools and in a totally virtual environment at others.

Students taking K12 courses log on to attend class and take tests. Some schools have students come to traditional classroom settings at least once a week, while others handle all coursework online. But even with the latter the experience isn’t entirely virtual—students meet for field trips, “club” activities (such as math and science clubs), picnics, and workshops.

Motivated Teachers

Another difference K12 brings is the presence of a “learning coach,” often a parent, who works in tandem with the teacher to help ensure students achieve their learning objectives. The learning coach is similar to an athletic coach, creating a team environment with the teacher and student.

Tanya Parisi, a middle grades math teacher for the Ohio Virtual Academy in suburban Toledo who has a master’s degree in educational instruction, said she prefers the K12 curriculum over those of traditional public schools because it’s more advanced. For example, a virtual seventh grader using a K12 curriculum will be doing about the same work as a traditional eighth grader, she noted.

Hands-On Work

One of the major benefits of the online curriculum is that it’s not as rigid as the curriculum in a traditional bricks-and-mortar school, Parisi says. She can accelerate or slow down lessons depending on each student’s particular needs.

Students interact with teachers such as Parisi through online “chat” features. There are times students may chat with each other online, but at other times—just as in bricks-and-mortar classrooms—Parisi can turn off the chatting option.

While much of the instruction is online, students also have books, workbooks, and other traditional materials.

“It’s not [a situation] where a student spends six hours looking at a computer screen,” Parisi said. “In math, for example [as part of instruction], they will need to spend some time working on problems in their workbooks.”

Accommodates Different Learning Styles

Marilyn Davis, who is the learning coach for her two grandsons at Ohio Virtual Academy, said the program has been extremely helpful for both of them. They tended to struggle academically in a more traditional environment.

“[The boys] have very different learning styles, and K12 has been able to accommodate both of them,” said Davis, a retired schoolteacher. “I’ll tell you one thing, they talk a lot about doing experiments [in traditional science classes], but you hardly do any,” Davis noted. By contrast, “They’ve done a lot of hands-on experiments with K12.

“There’s a high level of accountability,” Davis added. “Someone can’t just fake their way through it.”

Phillip J. Britt ([email protected]) writes from Illinois.