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The Realities of K-12 Virtual Education

In a decade, virtual education in its contemporary form of asynchronous, computer-mediated interaction between a teacher and students over the Internet has grown from a novelty to an established mode of education that may provide all or part of formal schooling for nearly one in every 50 students in the US. In a non-random 2007 survey of school districts, as many as three out of every four public K-12 school districts responding reported offering full or partial online courses. There can be little question that virtual courses in certain areas (e.g., math, English, social studies) produce tested achievement results on a par with those of their conventionally taught counterparts. Nor is it debatable that more complex areas of the curriculum (e.g., the arts) are beyond the reach of these new arrangements. Nevertheless, the rapid growth of this new form of schooling raises questions of cost, funding, and variable quality that require the immediate attention of policymakers.