Tag Archives: virtual schools

Virtual School Leader Processes

Virtual School Leader Profile

by Mark Sivy

At the core of a virtual school ecosystem is its leader. These leaders guide the school’s culture, processes, operations and outcomes. As a result of recent research interviews with virtual school leaders, much information was gathered about their personal leadership traits and styles. When asking questions related to these topics, rather than talking about themselves, the leaders typically resorted to citing practical examples about their school’s operations and the interactions they have had with their staff. The following were the four central themes that resulted:


Most leaders brought up this topic when they expressed having a lack of authority or input regarding state and local school district policies related to the virtual school and the use of its services. Other comments were made concerning the use of their authority within the virtual schools. In these instances, the leaders preferred to work with and make determinations and resolutions as a team, but that they would step in as the decision maker when needed.

Virtual School Leader

Forward Thinking

Both directly and indirectly, the leaders made statements about monitoring trends and innovations, preparing for the future, and looking for new opportunities. Also brought up was the concept of being a change agent. In this role, the leader would be open to creativity, new ideas, different directions, and calculated risks.

Personal Motivations and Interests

Leadership InterestThe most consistent and heartfelt motivation for these leaders was their dedication to the students. These leaders were authentically concerned about the students, their learning, and their well-being. Some of the leaders expressed the fulfillment they previously had as a classroom teacher in a traditional school and saw their current positions as a continuation of that role. Others stated that they wished they had the opportunity to teach in an online setting. Other intrinsic incentives were the leadership role itself, working with curriculum and instruction, being on a leading edge of education, and facilitating education using technology.

Role Approach

These leaders maintained an arsenal of personal tactics, strategies, and methodologies that were used in addressing the large number of different leadership challenges and responsibilities. Their approaches were determined by the people, circumstances, limitations, and resources that were involved. In addressing the leadership demands, the most common characteristics were for the leaders to be dynamic, adaptable, open, and agile.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”   ~John F. Kennedy


Virtual School Policy

Virtual School Policy

by Mark Sivy

Policy has and is playing an important role in the adoption and evolution of virtual schools. Fulton and Kober (2002) recommend that during the process of designing and developing virtual school policy, policymakers should develop indicators that not only can be used to guide virtual schools, but that can also be used in the evaluation of virtual education.

virtual school policyBased upon the Digital Learning Council’s 2011 Digital Learning Now! Roadmap for Reform report, policy should address and support student success, the availability of quality learning options, and a digital learning infrastructure. Student success can be facilitated by ensuring equal access, removing access barriers, personalizing learning, and cultivating learning achievement and advancement (Digital Learning Council, 2011; Rice, 2009). In terms of quality learning options, considerations must be made for high quality content, instruction, choices, programs and interactions (Digital Learning Council, 2011). This involves upholding the rigor of said elements and establishing and maintaining a means of assessment and accountability. Finally, digital learning infrastructure focuses on the virtual school’s underpinnings and the factors that contribute to sustainability. These include funding, stakeholder input, technology infrastructure and its reliability, support, training, research, and evaluation (Digital Learning Council, 2011; Rice, 2009).

Reflection Point – “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” ~Ronald Reagan



Digital Learning Council. (2011). Digital learning now! Roadmap for reform.

Fulton, K. & Kober, N. (2002). Preserving principles of public education in an online world: What policymakers should be asking about virtual schools. Center on Education Policy Report.

Rice, K. (2009). Priorities in k-12 distance education: A Delphi study examining multiple perspectives on policy, practice, and research. Educational Technology & Society 12(3), 163-177.


Virtual School History Brief

Virtual Schools – Their Beginnings and Growth

by Mark Sivy

Made possible by the public availability of the World Wide Web in 1991, the digital facilitation of web-based education was born, giving eventual rise to online learning and virtual schools. Within three years, an education event known as the Virtual Summer School (VSS) for Open University was held and it hosted a web-based undergraduate psychology course. The earliest recognized web-based high school curriculum was made available through CALCampus, which began its operations in 1994-1995. Shortly thereafter the first virtual school, titled Virtual High School, was launched in 1996 and is still in operation today. In 1997, Florida established the first statewide web-based virtual public high school, which recently served an estimated 240,000 students in the 2012-2013 school year (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin & Rapp, 2013).

Tim Berners-Lee

Time Berners-Lee – Founder of the World Wide Web

Clark (2001) defined a virtual high school as “a state approved and/or regionally accredited school that offers secondary credit courses through distance learning methods that include Internet-based delivery” (p. i). Extending the definition beyond the high school level, United States virtual schools now offer curriculum, programs, and services for all K-12 grades. The operation of these virtual schools does not take place within a traditional “brick and mortar” educational facility, but rather through electronically connected students, teachers, administrators, parents and communities who are separated by geographic location and/or time. Clark (2001) identified six types of virtual schools based upon to the founding organization: university-based, state-led, consortium, local education agency, charter school, and private school.

Since their debut in the late 1990s, virtual schools have had notable increases in terms of the number of schools and their course enrollments. For example, according to Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, and Rapp (2013), state-led virtual schools existed in 26 states in the 2012-2013 school year and had 740,000 course enrollments. Based upon Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, and Rapp’s previous annual course enrollment numbers, this is an increase of over 19% compared to the 2011-2012 school year, over 38% compared to the 2010-2011 school year, over 64% compared to the 2009-2010 school year, and over 131% compared to the 2008-2009 school year. For the 2007-2008 academic year, Picciano and Seaman (2009) estimated over one million K-12 students used an online course, which was a 47% increase over the estimate was made two years prior. Based upon current rates, Mincberg (2010) projects that it is possible by 2020 for 50% of all high school classes to be delivered online.

Virtual SchoolThe need to improve learning outcomes and to address educational standards and policy have been important motivators in the development of virtual schools. An early catalyst for virtual schools was that they offered an array of courses and related services that otherwise would not be available to students or that would not fit into the usual school or student schedule (Patrick, 2007; Russell, 2004). At the national level, the expansion of virtual schools has been encouraged by the advent of two policies, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the 2004 National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) (Archambault, Crippen, & Lukemeyer, 2007). Since then other proclamations concerning U.S. education such as the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan and the Common Core State Standards have continued to motivate the growth and acceptance of virtual schools (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin & Rapp, 2011). Currently, most virtual schools offer courses that supplement traditional school offerings, with learners being accounted for as members of their home school rather than the virtual school.

Virtual LearningThe desire and necessity to document and address the many challenges, issues, and requirements of virtual schools has resulted in a budding body of related academic research on topics such as pedagogy, communications, students, policy, technologies, funding, leadership, learning outcomes, and teacher professional development. Due to the relative infancy of these schools and the fact that they are undergoing fairly rapid adaptation and evolution as they mature, the body of research on these topics is in its formative stages. Saba (2005) described the condition of distance education research as a whole to be “one of confusion”. In the specific realm of virtual school research, there is currently a similar condition and a recognized need for a much better developed base of research (Archambault & Crippen, 2009; Barbour, 2010; Searson, Jones, & Wold, 2011).

Reflection Point – Friction and misunderstandings often occur when communicating across generations. It gets even more challenging when working across virtual settings. ~Raymond Arroyo



Archambault, L. & Crippen, K. (2009). K-12 distance educators at work: Who’s teaching online across the United States. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41, 363–391.

Archambault, L., Crippen, K., & Lukemeyer, A. (2007). The impact of U.S. national and state level policy on the nature and scope of k-12 virtual schooling. Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2007, 2185-2193.

Barbour, M. K. (2010). Researching K-12 online learning: What do we know and what should we examine. Distance Learning, 7(2), 6–12.

Clark, T. (2000). Virtual high schools, state of the states: A study of virtual high school planning and operation in the United States.

Mincberg, C. (2010). Is online learning a solution in search of a problem?

Patrick, S. T. (2007). Preface. In J. Watson, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning (pp. i4-i5).

Picciano, A. G., & Seaman, J. (2009). K-12 online learning: A 2008 follow-up of the survey of U.S. school district administrators.

Russell, G. (2004). Virtual schools: A critical view. In C. Cavanaugh (Ed.), Development and management of virtual schools: Issues and trends (pp. 1-25). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Saba, F. (2005). Critical issues in distance education: A report from the United States. Distance Education 2, 255-272.

Searson, M. Jones, W. M., & Wold, K. (2011). Editorial: Reimagining schools: The potential of virtual education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42, 363-371.

Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2011). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: An annual review of policy and practice.

Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2013). Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning: An annual review of policy and practice.

A Virtual School Ecosystem Basis

A Virtual School Ecosystem Basis

by Mark Sivy

ReseacherFrom research done during a study of virtual school leadership, I discovered I had gained a substantial understanding of virtual school inner workings. A follow-up review of literature related to virtual school dynamics and processes yielded a scarcity of empirical information. With my interest and curiosity piqued, I’ve decided to undertake learning more about the ecosystems of virtual schools, cyber schools, and online educational programs.

From my recent research, the current pieces of the puzzle that make up these ecosystems include:

  1. Leadership
  2. Non-instructional staff
  3. Instructional staff
  4. Other human capital
  5. The learner
  6. Curriculum
  7. Instructional processes
  8. School work environments
  9. Teaching and learning environment
  10. External work interactions
  11. Internal communications
  12. External communications
  13. Capital resources
  14. Governance
  15. Finances
  16. Operational logistics
  17. Organizational parameters
  18. School community

Building BlocksThese 18 categories make up my present inventory of top level components. These will serve as the early building blocks and guides in my quest for additional literature and research findings. Future posts will reflect what I find and will build out each of these categories.

Reflection Point – What we find changes who we become. ~Peter Morville