Guest commentary: Julie Young ... Making virtual schools sustainable and accountable

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By Julie Young

Orlando President and CEO, Florida Virtual School

There have been recent media stories questioning the quality of virtual education. Most recently, under the headline “Cyber Schools Flunk, But the Money Keeps Flowing,’’ Politico reported on the poor performance of students taking online courses from various providers in a variety of states.

I cannot attest to the accuracy of the reporting, nor am I qualified to pass judgment on the quality of other virtual schools. I have my hands filled with my own.

But I am concerned that this story and others like it have created a negative image for all online providers by painting with too broad a brush. Virtual schools are as varied in their approach and their results as are traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

I can assure you that Florida Virtual School (FLVS), like many other quality providers, does not “flunk.’’ Nor does the money flow if our students do not succeed because our reimbursement from the state is dependent on their success in their coursework.

FLVS is not a for-profit enterprise. We are a statewide public school district owned by the taxpayers. We have an established group of experienced and state-certified teachers. For 16 years we have served hundreds of thousands of students in Florida and other states, offering classes from the basics to a full slate of Advanced Placement courses. The 2012 AP Exam results revealed that FLVS students outperformed the state of Florida in overall averages by 14 percent and exceeded the national overall averages by 2 percent.

In the 2012-13 school year, FLVS part-time students performed higher than the state average on all four state-created End-of-Course (EOC) exams. Their scores on Algebra 1 were 20 percent higher than the statewide average, on Geometry 24 percent higher and on Biology 3 percent higher.

The 2012-13 school year was the first year for the U.S. History EOC assessment. Achievement levels for this EOC assessment have not been defined; however the preliminary results showed that FLVS Part Time students performed 17 percent higher than the state average.

Perhaps you can understand our concern and frustration at reports giving the perception that online courses are an inferior option.

As the public demands better results and greater accountability from educators, those of us in the virtual, or online education, systems must lead by continuing to provide innovative access to a quality education and demonstrate unwavering stewardship of public resources. The failing grades of any individual cyber school do not reflect on virtual education as a whole, any more than the failure of a traditional school reflects on all traditional schools.

Each year, an ever-growing number of students and their parents benefit from the engaging and interactive courses offered through Florida Virtual School and from the personal attention of our certified and caring teachers. The exponential growth Florida Virtual School and online learning have experienced will continue as we transform education worldwide.

This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, and it’s why we advocate for greater transparency, accountability, and stewardship in this most important work. We believe in a brighter future, and we believe in creating it together, one student at a time.

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