Virtual High Schools

New institutional models of learning are emerging, including e-learning in the ‘virtual’ environment of the Internet. Glori Chaika describes some ‘virtual’ high schools in the United States.

Join a class composed of students from different states and countries chatting and learning together yet never leaving their homes! Virtual courses, virtual student lounges, virtual yearbooks, and virtual graduations; is this the education of the future?

When Winter Park, Florida, 12th -grader Luke Levesque took his computer class, all he had to do was roll out of bed and turn on his computer. Luke was completing his education at The Florida High School, a virtual high school …

‘Distance education finally brings democracy to education. It gives the student in East L.A. or Brentwood, or Martha’s Vineyard, or Harlem, or Pakistan an equal opportunity to content curriculum and to people with many perspectives,’ says Tom Layton, technology teacher at Eugene, Oregon’s 63-student CyberSchool. ‘I believe students who learn with each other will learn from each other. Until now, the single biggest factor influencing the quality of education was where you live. If you don’t believe me, ask any real estate agent. For the 21st Century it is not going to be where you live, but how you are connected.’

Students who take cyber courses proceed at their own pace. If they need to listen to a lecture a second time, or think about a question for awhile, they may do so without fearing that they will hold back the rest of the class. Through cyber courses, students can complete a degree more quickly, or repeat failed courses without the indignity of being in a class with younger students. Students have access to an incredible variety of enrichment courses, or can participate in internships or work and still graduate with their classes.

Cyber education has many other advantages:

  • It permits students in small, rural, or low-wealth school districts to take specialized courses that would ordinarily not be available to them.
  • It provides home schooled students with instruction in subjects their parents might not be able to teach, such as foreign languages or computer skills.
  • It meets the needs of school phobics, those in hospitals or recovering at home, dropouts who would like to get back in, expelled students, single parents, and students in other states or even other countries looking for nontraditional educational solutions.
  • And, in an age when many of our schools are overcrowded or crumbling, cyber learning makes financial sense, too, because schools using distance learning do not need to modernize or build new buildings in order to provide quality cyber instruction.

‘In Center, Colorado,’ says Virtual High School Director Bruce Droste, ‘physics is still offered after the physics teacher left, and in Amman, Jordan, and Alaska students take a geometry course previously unavailable to them.’

Chaika, Gloro. 1999. ‘Virtual High Schools: The High Schools of the Future?’ in Education World.