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Most recent posting below. See other articles in the column to the right.

Virtual Learning: Separating Fact from Fiction

(ARA) - Seventeen million pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in the U.S. will get at least some of their education virtually by 2015, according to new research from Ambient Insight. More than four million of these students will get their entire educations virtually, from full-time virtual schools.

While each family has its own reasons for choosing full-time virtual schools, the most common driver is the ability for a student to work at his own pace and level, regardless of what other students are doing. The proliferation and proven success of virtual schools like the national network of Connections Academy schools has also fueled the e-learning education boom. "More parents today know about the solid academic track record of virtual schools. They see that technology helps deliver a more personalized education for their children, so that students' studies are tailored to their abilities, needs, and interests," says Connections Academy's Senior Vice President for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Patricia Hoge. "Virtual schools are increasingly the go-to option for students who aren't thriving in a traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom setting."

Virtual schools can be a great alternative for lots of different kinds of students -- whether they're ahead or behind their peers, have learning challenges, are pursuing athletics or a host of other circumstances. Yet despite the growing popularity of virtual education, some parents still don't know how virtual schools work, or hold onto outdated or incorrect viewpoints on this latest education innovation.

Here are educators' top K-12 e-learning facts to help parents understand virtual education today:

Fact: Virtual public school is not home school
The two are very different. Virtual public schools deliver public education in the comfort of the student's home. Like all public schools, they are tuition-free to students. State-certified teachers deliver a rigorous curriculum that correlates to state standards. Schools provide students with a variety of curriculum materials and learning resources - sometimes even computers. Virtual private schools are also available.

Fact: Not all virtual schools are created equal
Parents need to do their homework to pick a high quality virtual school that's the best fit for their child. Look for a school with a track record of delivering student academic achievement and high levels of parent and student satisfaction. Other key quality benchmarks include: accreditation from AdvancED; full-time, certified and highly qualified teachers; state-of-the-art technology resources; and community activities like clubs and field trips for students.

Fact: Certified teachers do the teaching
At Connections Academy full-time virtual schools, students learn at home under the guidance of a certified teacher. Assisting the student in day-to-day activities is an adult Learning Coach, who is typically a parent, but also could be another family member or responsible adult caregiver. The teacher works directly with both the student and Learning Coach to develop an individual learning plan, provide instruction and evaluate assignments.

Fact: Students use textbooks, pencils, microscopes and interactive curricula
In virtual schools, the computer is a tool for teachers and parents to manage and track assignments, communicate (along with the phone) and deliver interactive curricular materials. However, students complete many assignments "unplugged," and spend time reading textbooks, using workbooks, reading library books and doing hands-on experiments - just like a traditional school.

Fact: Students regularly socialize and interact with peers
Virtual students have opportunities to interact with each other. Just like all kids, they choose to IM, text, or talk to each other on the phone. Connections Academy sets up a number of field trips each month so students can get together as a group. Many of the students also find that the flexibility of virtual education makes it possible to be involved in activities, such as sports and volunteering.

In many states, parents can still enroll their children in full-time virtual school programs for the coming school year. In states where virtual public schools are not available there are fee-based virtual private school options.

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