Virtual School Chat Series Part 1 — Why Is Running A Virtual School So Hard?

Running a virtual school is hard.

I like new beginnings. They bring hope and excitement for the future, the good things that are yet to come.

Great beginnings start with a vision for what can better in the future, and by looking back at the past. So as I think about the future of virtual schools, I want to start with, and respond to, some of the negative comments about virtual schools that surfaced in 2015. One report from CREDO stated, “Attending a virtual school is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire school year.”

Another recent article from a former virtual school commissioner gave us another stark view into how some virtual schools are being set up, run, and managed away from success. And while one can argue that the write-up of a former virtual school commissioner calls for much discernment due to its singularity, I would like to recognize that CREDO did their due diligence in meticulously normalizing the data in order to address the contributing factors as fairly as possible. Even so, completely eliminating bias in reports like this are nearly impossible. Why? Well, here are a few reasons…

For one, Virtual schools serve a student population who could not be effectively served in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, and many times the virtual school provides the student a safe harbor to recover from social or academic challenges. Virtual school operators are also at the mercy of an industry that has focused its efforts and dollars on entertainment and profits versus investment in student growth propelled by technology improvements. Most course and instructional delivery tools are ancient when compared to parallel technologies offered in the consumer/gaming industry. For example, the LMS of today isn’t much different than the one of 1998, but in 1998 the iPhone didn’t even exist and music was via a Walkman. As compared to the consumer tech industry, Education Technology as an industry has not grown at a compatible rate.

I empathize with the leaders in the virtual schools who face the above challenges and yet strive every day to deliver quality education for the student who:

  • cannot attend a brick-and-mortar school due to illness yet has the perfect mental capacity to learn
  • feels most comfort learning at home
  • is a full-time athlete who must be traveling and training during the regular school days
  • has passion for agriculture and must devote his/her time in the field during the daylight hours
  • must help his/her family with needs during the normal school hours
  • has learning style and needs that a traditional school is not able to cater to well

Thinking through the challenges together.

Our virtual schools team (who are industry leaders and experts) spends the majority of our time researching these challenges and constantly coming up with ways to better support the future of virtual schools. For the next few months, we are going to offer a series of blog topics that are directed at helping virtual school leaders to think through:

  • Vision & Strategy: What is your vision for your virtual school and how does it ultimately impact student learning? How do you structure strategies that point to achieving your school vision?
  • Strategy & Community: Why are Strategy & Community so important for your virtual school success? How can you build a strong community?
  • Execution: What should you consider when managing change in your virtual school?

We will also be bringing you a series of guest blog posts from the virtual school experts on topics such as content development, operations and fulfillment, and virtual schools learning platform.

Time to start creating a future for the virtual schools is now.

We believe that with the right vision and effective strategies, we can deliver a virtual school that truly meets the unique learning needs of every child. And we believe that personalized learning — a mission of Education Elements — will be key to enabling a fruitful future for the virtual schools. This journey may be long and hard, but there’s no time to wait; we have to start creating that future now.


Originally published at www.edelements.com.