By Leland Anderson and Michael B. Horn
In the winter of the 2005–06 school year, Alpine School District (“Alpine”) decided to form an online K–8 school to support home-schooled students in the district. It adopted the idea from a neighboring Utah school district. Available funding from the state of $2,500 per student per year made the online school financially viable as that amount covered the cost of full-time teachers as well as certain online and shipped curriculum. The lead administrator on the project combined his drive with the expertise of K12™ Inc. (“K12™”) to set the school up within six months.
How the online school works
1. Alpine’s Web site directs parents to K12™’s enrollment Web site where parents can enroll their children.
2. A teacher from the online school contacts the family to discuss expectations and confirm the children’s enrollment.
3. Students work online and with shipped curriculum (including books and manipulatives), and the parent or guardian is the primary teacher.
4. Students take frequent online assessments.
5. A certified teacher from the online school uses an online portal to monitor student progress through the curriculum.
6. A certified teacher from the online school contacts the family each week via phone or email to provide support to students and the parent-teacher.
7. Students spend the required 990 hours per year engaged in learning activities.
8. Students take standardized tests at the end of the year. Thus far the students’ test scores have roughly equaled those of their age-level peers in brick-and-mortar schools.
Given the services Alpine chose to purchase from K12™ and because it was located in Utah, the cost of the online school was about $2,500 per student—about half the cost of a traditional student. This made the online school a break-even proposition for the district.
Online or virtual learning allows students to take core and elective subjects at their own pace, preferred time, and from many places.
Moving toward modularity: Choices in curriculum
In response to parent requests, Alpine Online added a Saxon Math option and more than 10 foreign language options through Rosetta Stone. Several students take a “blended” group of classes—that is, some online and at home and some at the local school. Implementing this required case-by-case training of school staff.
Some parents found K12™’s curriculum to be too demanding for their children whereas others withdrew their children to avoid having them take standardized tests. Many parents participating in Alpine Online, however, expressed great satisfaction with the program. They reported that they enjoyed having control over their child’s learning environment, as well as significant discretion over the presentation of content, place, and pace. Several have reported that such conditions have helped their children and fostered accelerated or enhanced learning.