Virtual Public Schools Soon a Reality in Massachusetts
The schools would have no desks or lockers, not even a cafeteria to trade gossip over a plate of chicken nuggets. Instead, students could take classes from the comfort of their homes or a neighborhood coffeehouse, as teachers convey lessons via the Internet.
This is a snapshot of virtual public schools in Massachusetts, which could open as soon as this fall, enabling hundreds of students to take all their classes online.
The first such school is poised to open this fall in Greenfield, a small city of rolling pastures and a quaint downtown in Western Massachusetts. Just last week, its School Committee set an enrollment goal of up to 600 students, and is seeking a principal to further develop the "Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield,'' which will be open to students statewide in kindergarten through grade 8.
The schools are being developed under a little-known provision of the state's sweeping education law enacted in January. The law, which urges districts to pursue innovations, gave local school committees authority to create public schools that operate almost entirely in cyberspace.
State education leaders say virtual schools could even help reduce the statewide high school dropout rate, providing another alternative to students who struggle within the confines of a school building because of social issues or rigid time structures.
Across the nation, virtual public schools have been growing in popularity in such states as Texas, Colorado, and Arizona, online education specialists say.
Massachusetts students will have to comply with state requirements for class time, which in high school means completing 990 hours of "structured learning'' annually. Their classes each year will have to match up with the state's academic standards, which specify what subject matter should be taught at each grade level.