What is virtual schooling? Is it homeschooling with the added benefit of a teacher just a phone call away, still overseeing a child’s academic development? Or is it public school that just happens to take place at home, in an environment that is tailored to a specific child’s needs?
In many cases, the way the concept is defined is different for each family and even for each child. One child might need the support provided by a public schooling environment, complete with regular contact with a teacher and frequent overseeing. She might need the lessons, the structure, and the help, particularly when it comes to scheduling or academic areas. On the other hand, another child might thrive on the freedom offered by homeschooling, with a predetermined curriculum that does not necessarily hold him or her to a specific time of day, specific lessons completed at specific times, or constant observation from an adult other than the parent.
In other cases, virtual schooling is defined by the administration. With all the disruption over the Tennessee Virtual Academy’s routines this year, it is obvious that even the administration is struggling to define a difficult, new, and unique concept. Virtual schooling is new. It is a product of technology that has only in relatively recent years become available to the general population, and only in the last couple of years been made available freely, instead of the user being required to pay outrageous fees. No one quite knows what to make of it yet—how it should be defined, how it should be regulated, or even whether or not students are going to thrive in this new environment.
The arguments are vast and varied, and in the end, it would appear that virtual schooling Is a hybrid of traditional homeschooling and public schooling. Some characteristics of both are present in every day of a virtual schooled child’s life. For example, virtual schooling is similar to homeschooling in that…
The parent is the one primarily responsible for the child’s daily plan. This is particularly true in the elementary school years, when teachers are less strict about precisely what must be completed each day, or for a child who is ahead of or behind the curve in one form or another. It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that the child is completing the necessary work each day, and it is the parent who grades assignments, offers assistance when assistance is needed, and determines when it’s time to call it quits for the day. In this way, virtual schooling is much like traditional homeschooling, because whether you call that facilitator a “learning coach” or by some other title, they are still the ones in charge of ensuring daily progress for their child.
The schedule is determined by the parent. The parent is the one who determines whether or not the child is working at any given time. They arrange classes and assignments around the rest of the child’s schedule, including sports, appointments, and other activities.
The child is at home. The child does not attend a traditional classroom, nor does learning take place surrounded by peers. The child is expected to learn semi-independently, with a “learning coach”—the parent—to facilitate learning.
On the other hand, virtual schooling is also very similar to a traditional public school—and this is the stance that the administration seems to be taking now. For example….
The school must answer to the state, just like any other public school. That means that attendance requirements must be met. Students must complete assignments and continue to make progress. And when standards fall, the school, the teachers, and the administration are accountable. This is part of a virtual schooled student’s daily life simply because if they fail to complete the necessary progress, they are endangering their own placement within the school, as well as the existence of the school itself.
Teachers are available through most of the day. Sure, they aren’t constantly looking over the student’s shoulder the way they would be in a brick and mortar school, but they are available at all times, and they are there to support the student’s learning—something that homeschooling students simply don’t have.
Students must be accountable, not only to a parent, but to the TNVA rules. They aren’t allowed to skip a day just because they feel like it, or to attend sessions only when they want to. They must be accountable to their teachers, and they must follow the rules, or they face expulsion from the school—just like in a traditional public school.