Virtual High Schools

By Michelle Gamble-Risley
Center for Digital Government

While distance education (or Web-based education) programs have been the staple of many higher education institutions for several years now, K-12 distance education programs have not been as widespread. This situation is beginning to change with the advent of what are being called virtual high schools.

The idea behind virtual high schools is to not only provide access to education 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but to also offer Web-based classes that students in certain regions of the country might not otherwise have access to, either because of a lack of resources or teacher training.

One of the oldest virtual high school programs (officially introduced in 1997), the Florida Virtual School ( began as a joint project between Alachua and Orange County Public Schools with 15 educators who served in administrative, instructional and/or developmental jobs. Instructional staff consists of 51 instructors representing 15 Florida counties and is guided by a Board of Trustees appointed by the governor.

Current courses include business computer technology, computer education, English, family and consumer sciences, foreign language, mathematics, physical education, research and critical thinking, science, and social studies. Courses are offered at no cost for high school students that reside within the state of Florida. The program is state funded, and all 67 Florida counties are affiliated with it. As such, students from all over the state have free access to its courses, and the schools agree to accept credit for courses that they approve.

Another virtual high school to opens its door is the Illinois Virtual High School (IVHS), which uses technology that expands the boundaries of space and time to provide Illinois students and their teachers with increased equity and access to educational opportunities. Launched by Illinois Gov. George Ryan in January 2001, the IVHS offers courses that put an emphasis on curriculum needed to ensure that students can meet the Illinois Learning Standards, including courses in foreign languages, high-level mathematics and science, Advanced Placement review courses, and others not available to students. For example, courses listed for fall 2001 include Business and IT, AP – American Government, AP – Physics B, Language Arts World Literature, Math General Mathematics, Science – Physics 1B, Social Studies American History 1A, and more.

A course fee of $300 per student, per semester ($600 for a full year course) has been established. The local school district may decide to assume the costs of the course or instead require the student to assume the cost of the course. Additionally, scholarships are available for enrollment in Advanced Placement Courses.

A similar program, the Kentucky Virtual High School (KVHS) is a statewide educational service. It delivers high school courses and online learning opportunity to Kentuckians. KVHS courses are provided to public high schools through the Kentucky Department of Education.

All students enroll in the program through their local public school district. Interested students complete a Request to Register that is automatically submitted to the KVHS point of contact for the high school.

Once the student’s requested is approved by the high school, he or she can begin taking courses. Classes are posted on the Web 24 hours, seven days a week. KVHS offers for-credit, enrichment or college preparatory classes taught by Kentucky-certified teachers. Course content areas include arts and humanities, English, mathematics, science, social studies, foreign language, health education, physical education, and more.

Tuition fees are: $275 per half-credit course take in one semester; $500 per one-credit course taken in one semester;$275 one semester Advanced Placement courses; $500 two semester Advanced Placement courses.

Another project currently in development is the Louisiana Virtual Classroom, a pilot program that will offer Web-based courses beginning fall 2001. The project is funded from 8(g) Distance Learning funds. In this initial phase, 11 teachers and one university professor will deliver online courses including Latin, Spanish I, II, Algebra I, Environmental Issues, Computer Science, World History, English IV, and Physics. Each participating school will allow 20 students to register in the other courses being offered through the LVC.

The LVC will afford students access to courses that meet the requirements for university admission, including core curriculum courses required for: University admission, Louisiana Tuition Assistance Plan, Board of Regent’s Scholar Award, Advance Placement courses. Courses being offered for fall 2001 include computer science, English, foreign languages, mathematics, science, social studies, and more.

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