Recently, I sat across the table from a man who runs a $160M per year Charter Management Organization. He asked me I would do if I had a blank check to start a new virtual school. The challenge was electrifying. New research shows that at-risk students benefit the most from ed tech. As a traditional classroom teacher and administrator serving the at-risk population, I have long been fascinated with blended and online learning. As a 1:1 teacher, I experienced firsthand how blended learning cut my course failure rate by 50%. This could be the chance for me to put my money where my mouth is and make a commitment to online teaching.
Online or virtual schooling is rapidly increasing in US K-12 education. In 2012-13, thirty states had multi-district, fully online schools with enrollments of about 310,000 students, and twenty-six states have state virtual schools with over 740,000 course enrollments. Online course enrollments have doubled in four years. According to California Learning Resource Network’s eLearning Census of 1,810 districts and charters, 53% reported having students participate in virtual or blended learning and 21% stated they were planning to implement online or blended learning (Watson et al, 2014).
The CLRN census counted 174,632 virtual and blended students in 2013-2014, a 39% one-year increase. The virtual student population has not grown significantly since 2012, but the number of blended students has skyrocketed, increasing 49% since 2013 and 74% since 2012. The adoption of blended and online learning is expanding in both traditional public and charter schools and the number of students participating in eLearning at each type of school is rising steadily. The 2014 census found that 60% of charter schools embraced virtual and/or blended learning as compared with 48% of traditional districts. Traditional public school districts account for the majority (67%) of California’s blended learning population, while charter schools make up 82% of the virtual population. The blended learning population grew 49% this year and most of that growth happened in charters. Since 2012, blended learning has grown 43% in traditional districts while charters have experienced a 287% increase. An encouraging talking point is that 58% of districts and charters feel their virtual and blended programs have resulted in greater student engagement and increased course completion rates.
So, if I had a blank check and a boss willing to enter a competitive marketplace, the first thing I would do would be retain United Talent Agency’s Brand Studio to develop a brand and strategy. Larry Vincent is an old friend from Disney and has written two great books on brand management. He is a rock star in this area.
Next, I would engage John Watson & the Evergreen Education Group to identify curricular products and delivery systems that would enable a new online school to compete with Connections Learning, K12 Inc., and FLVS Global. Being a good educational leader is recognizing where to get help when you aren’t an expert. I am not an army of one. John’s group produces the Keeping Pace in Digital Education series and is the premier research group reporting on blended and online learning. I would give their advice some serious reflection before starting on this journey.
Lastly, Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is considered the gold standard in online schools nationally. They started in 1997 with seven staff members and 77 students, then increased to 477 students the next year, and had 2,500 students by their third year. Currently, they have 411K part time students and over 50K full time students. The entire K-12 online education market consists of 740,000 online course enrollments (Chingos & Schwerdt, 2014). FLVS would be the first place I would start recruiting employees to carve out a niche in this market.
If you had a blank check how would you build and staff your dream online school? What blended or online learning models would you incorporate into your program? How could you do a better job than the dominant players in the market?