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Education Desk: What Is Florida Virtual School?


Twenty years ago, the state established the first statewide public high school that was Internet-based. Florida Virtual School now teaches students K through 12. From the Education Desk, 90.7’s Catherine Welch caught up with school CEO and President Jodi Marshall to find out how the virtual school works.

Marshall:  We are a public school district in the state of Florida serving kindergarten through 12th grade, so we are free to students in Florida. And then we also have a global school which is tuition based for students outside of Florida.

Welch: Who are your students? Are these students who need home schooling, are these students who just want a different kind of education experience? Who are your students?

Marshall: They are all of the above. So we have students that are home schooled, private school, and public school students. We have students who might be wanting to accelerate or students that might be making up a course credit. We also have students who just find the online environment is better suited for their learning style. And there is also a graduation requirement in the state of Florida to have an online course before you graduate. We have all sorts of students that find this teaching and learning experience good for them.

Welch:  And they're not all the same kind of students. In a public school your kid goes full-time, they're in school. But you have different programs. Can you explain some of the different programs you offer?

Marshall: Our full-time program is for students that want to take all of their courses with us, and that is a diploma granting program. We have a flex program, and on average are students take 1.7 courses in that flex program. Those are the students that are either meeting the graduation requirement, making up a course, wanting to accelerate, they might be a student athlete, they might be involved in something else in their lives where they just need to pick up credits from us, or they could be a home schooled student.

Welch: To help our listeners visualize how this learning experience is at Florida Virtual School, is it something where there's a camera and the student can look at a teacher, or is it just a template where they click online and teach themselves? What is a typical experience for a middle school student who is taking classes at Florida Virtual School?

Marshall: Our courses are web-based, and a student can access our courses 24/7 from any computer that has access to the Internet. The materials are all included in the course with the exception of a few courses that require some novels to be read. Students can log in and work any day of the year. We never shut that down. Students have access every single day, every hour of the day. They have access to their teacher between 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM Monday through Friday.

We have expectations around returning communication and integrating. So students are logging on and they are working at their own pace. However, there are checkpoints where the teachers call them and have what we call “discussion-based assessments” so we're checking in.

They could attend a live lesson where the teacher is directing some instruction and there are other students attending also, or they can watch that recording later if that's it's better for their schedule.

We do use web cams when it makes sense, especially in courses like science.

Welch:  At Florida Virtual School, do they follow the same oversight rules as public schools – for example standardized testing?

Marshall:  For a certain programs we do. So our full-time program does have standardized testing. Obviously the flex program we are not the school of record for the students so we're not responsible for that testing.  We do have the same rules and policies in terms of teacher evaluation. We have a teacher evaluation plan approved by the state, and all of our courses approved to Florida standards. If the student were to take a course from us on their transcript it would appear with the same course code as any other courses offered in Florida that was approved.