Some form of online education is now offered in school districts across 40 states, the Association of American Educators reports. Schools around the country are using online courses not only to complement traditional subject offerings, but also provides less costly alternatives to summer schools, special education programs, and advanced placement classes for students who progress faster through standard curriculum.
A study reported on by Education Week predicts that 50% of high school-level courses will be offered online by 2019, and that virtual education has shown potential in closing the student achievement gaps.
Online education also offers an attractive alternative to states seeking to makeup funding shortfalls this year.
The Florida Virtual School says it spends about $2,500 less per pupil than a traditional school because it does not need to maintain a facility, run buses or keep up athletic fields. The school currently serves 115,000 students across the state.
In Pennsylvania, school districts are looking to expand virtual offerings to include online student access to district services such as guidance counseling.
Public schools aren't the only potential markets for virtual courses. Aerin Curtis, writing for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, says that homeschooling families are also drawing on online resources.
Some home-schooling families are among those who have taken advantage of a recent agreement between Laramie County School District 1 and the Wyoming Virtual Academy, said Daniel Marquart, distance learning coordinator and community liaison.
The WVA program combines the benefits of home-based education with perks like a local high-school diploma and allows homeschoolers to be considered part of the local school districts. In addition, virtual classes save home-schooling parents the effort of creating their own curriculum while still giving them control over the pace of their kids' education. Daniel Marquart, distance learning coordinator for the WVA says:
"We have families who chose to home school and see this as a better option. It does two things: They become students of the district, (and it offers) documentation for students planning for high school graduation."