(last updated February 2007)
Nelson and Halifax County Public Schools in Virginia have created partnerships with K12, Inc. to create “virtual learning academies” which claim to combine public schooling and homeschooling to create a new alternative for parents. Students receive public school instruction through K12, Inc., while working at home, at taxpayers’ expense.
K12, Inc, based in Reston, Virginia, is the brainchild of Michael Milken and former US Secretary of Education William Bennett. This for-profit company has established similar “virtual charter schools” or “virtual learning academies” in numerous other states in recent years. Their marketing strategy typically involves heavy targeting of the homeschooling community, as we are already seeing in Virginia.
These are public school programs, not homeschooling programs. According to the Virginia Department of Education, K12, Inc., and the Nelson and Halifax County Public Schools, students enrolled full time in these “virtual learning academies” are considered full time public school students. Families must enroll in the public schools and provide the schools with the same information as regularly enrolled students.
Parents who enroll their children full time in these programs will lose their status as homeschoolers for accountability and other purposes. Virginia students enrolled in these “virtual learning academies” will be accountable to the SOLs, and will be required to take the SOL exams.
Students enrolled in virtual learning academies may not have the same access to the same public school programs or services as regular public school students. Regular public school students have the right to participate in school extracurricular activities, try out for interscholastic sports, and receive special education services through their local public school. Nelson County allows students enrolled in the Nelson Academy of Virtual Learning (NAVL) to travel to Nelson to participate in these activities and programs. However, this may not be an option for NAVL students who live far from Nelson County.
Nelson County also offers part-time enrollment in NAVL; part-time students must enroll in three classes. Homeschoolers who have enrolled in these programs full-time or part-time in Virginia and elsewhere report that K12, Inc’s virtual academies offer less parental flexibility and more parental recordkeeping compared to other prepackaged curriculum options:
- The program emphasizes time spent on task and/or on the computer, rather than mastery of the concepts or completion of the material. Parents are responsible for keeping track of progress and reporting to the program coordinator.
- The program involves significant amounts of time where the child would have to sit in front of a computer screen.
- The curriculum reflects the same subjects and approaches followed by the public schools. While parents may be allowed to skip over material which they find inappropriate or incompatible with their beliefs, their children will still be held accountable for this material on the SOL exams.
- The content for social studies, science, art, and music is different for each grade level, so multi-aged children cannot study these subjects together at the same time.
- Many parents find this program to be significantly more time-consuming than other prepackaged curriculums, which can interfere with family activities and socialization opportunities.
Homeschooling families may privately purchase K12, Inc’s curriculum through their “K12 Independence” option for their personal use. While parents using the “K12 Independence” curriculum can tailor the program to meet their family’s needs, families enrolled in the “virtual learning academies” would not have this flexibility.
The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers continues to research the status of these “virtual learning academies”, and will report its findings as more information becomes available.
More about K12, Inc.’s Virtual Schools
In most states, K12 Inc.’s “virtual learning academies” are considered “charter schools” or “virtual charter schools” under state law. The academies are regulated at the state level, and are overseen by a statewide organization like the Department of Education.
There currently are no regulations in Virginia governing the operation or establishment of “virtual learning academies” like the ones in Halifax or Nelson. These programs are not considered “charter schools” under Virginia law.
California homeschooler Mary Leggewie compares K12, Inc’s virtual academy to conventional prepackaged curriculum options.
The Wisconsin Parent’s Association provides an interesting fact sheet on virtual charter schools.
Ann Zeise’s webpage on “Public ‘Homeschool’ Programs”, offers a helpful collection of articles on charter schools in general and K12, Inc. in particular. Several of these articles were written by longtime homeschooling advocate and author Larry Kaseman of Wisconsin.
If you have questions or concerns about these or any other homeschooling legislative or policy issues, please contact us at VaHomeschoolers Government Affairs. We look forward to hearing from you.