Virtual Schooling: A Guide to Optimizing Your Child's Education

Virtual Schooling: A Guide to Optimizing Your Child's Education

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by Elizabeth Kanna, Lisa Gillis, Christina Culver

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Today, millions of school-age children are learning outside of a traditional classroom and using cutting edge educational options. Policy experts predict that in a decade half of all education will be delivered virtually. In Virtual Schooling three top authorities help you navigate the fastest growing movement in education -- regardless of whether your child

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Today, millions of school-age children are learning outside of a traditional classroom and using cutting edge educational options. Policy experts predict that in a decade half of all education will be delivered virtually. In Virtual Schooling three top authorities help you navigate the fastest growing movement in education -- regardless of whether your child attends public school, private school or is home schooled. You'll discover how to:

· Find opportunities and programs to optimize your child's learning, strengths and aptitudes.

· Create a personalized learning plan for your child, which can remove barriers, ignite their passions and propel your child to new levels of learning.

· Prepare your child for success in the workplace in any future economy.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A blue print and a tool kit for parents to join the latest education revolution.” —John Fund, columnist, The Wall Street Journal.

“A revolutionary tool for parents looking to find personalized, flexible education options for their child.” —Keith Oelrich, Founder and CEO Insight Schools, Inc.

“A valuable asset for any parent to create a world-class education for their child.” —Susan Patrick, President & CEO, International Association for K-12 Online Learning

“Anyone who feels their child would benefit from a more individualized approach to learning will discover how virtual schools can deliver a flexible, engaging and quality education.” —Ron Packard, Founder, CEO of K12, Inc.

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St. Martin's Press
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.54(d)

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Virtual Schooling

A Guide to Optimizing Your Child's Education

By Elizabeth Kanna, Lisa Gillis, Christina Culver

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2009 Elizabeth Kanna, Lisa Gillis, Christina Culver
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8640-7



It is 7:30 on a Monday morning and McKenzie, age 12, wakes up, kisses her Chihuahua, Ringo, says good morning to her parents, and gets ready to jet off to her classes at an academy that specializes in teaching math, science, and engineering. She attends school on Mondays and Wednesdays, taking classes in pre-algebra, history, and English with 15 other students. Her teachers stay in contact with her, as well as with her parents, by e-mail and a program called SnapGrades, which informs them almost daily about McKenzie's progress.

Thursdays are different for McKenzie. She catches up on work for her classes, works on her weekly history essay with guidance from her tutor via e-mail (and from her dad from his classroom 20 miles away and from her mom who works in a home office), and works on her grammar skills in a self-paced course at Next, McKenzie uses an online math program to help her grasp challenging concepts, reads a chapter in her history book, then meets with her French tutor at a local coffee shop. The meeting is conducted entirely in French since McKenzie hopes to become fluent and one day live in France.

On the same Monday morning McKenzie's 15-year-old sister, Madison, takes her terrier for a walk while she listens to a lecture on psychology from a Pulitzer Prize–winning professor and then a lecture on history from a Stanford University professor, both downloaded from iTunes U to her iPod. Once back at her desk, she puts in a DVD and watches a lecture on geometry for a course. Next she uses her computer to "attend" a class from a self-paced online MIT biology course, then meets with her supervising teacher to review her progress in preparation for the high school exit exam. Later in the day, her language arts tutor, an associate professor at Stanford University who works for the gifted and talented program, meets her at the local park where they discuss Pride and Prejudice.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Madison, who has a passion for Jane Austen, physically attends a course on British literature at Sacramento State University. The professor acknowledges her during the lecture as the youngest in the accelerated college entrance program's history. On her way home, Madison stops at a special event on campus and she signs up for a workshop for aspiring authors, where she'll share the novel she is writing. At home she meets with a tutor to work on one of her college essays. Later in the day, Madison completes a Chinese language lesson online and e-mails her completed essay to her tutor for final editing.

Their 18-year-old sister, Randall, is now a full-time college student. She graduated from high school a semester early with a year of college credits. One of the highlights of Randall's primary schooling was a special online program, and an actual weeklong expedition, with Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who found the Titanic. As Randall was encouraged to optimize technology throughout her elementary and high school years, she is proficient at doing the same as a college student. Driving to her college classes in the morning, she uses the iPhone app Evernote to dictate an essay she'll begin writing back at her laptop that evening. She also uses other iPhone apps such as Study Aid to create customized flashcards, Memoreasy to study more efficiently, and Stanza to access over 25,000 free e-books for class research. Her acumen in combining virtual resources with conventional classroom-based classes has translated into landing a spot on her college's President's Highest Honors list. As Randall moves into her second year of college, she explores many possible career paths. She loves acting and is auditioning for a lead in the college play. She is also on the costume committee and sings in a community music program. The many years of access to passionate mentors and teachers in various fields have given her confidence and have helped her to take these pursuits to the next level. She even has taken steps to launch her own clothing line.

These aren't kids in a futuristic movie or an episode from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Nor were these girls playing chess at age two, or acing algebra at age six as they raced on a fast-track academic career to MIT. In fact, math isn't their best subject and they struggle with it, like many kids.

McKenzie, Madison, and Randall's education is an example of how to combine classroom-based and online resources in order to customize a learning plan. The Kanna girls call themselves "virtual schoolers." They take some classes at a public school and use the computer or other technology for another portion of their coursework. Their parents, Elizabeth (co-author of this book) and Michael, have assembled programs from the Internet, the community, and the classroom and created a customized education for their daughters under the auspices of a public school. The public school ensures that the girls meet the state requirements for a high school diploma and issues them reports cards.

The flexibility of their education is thanks to a charter school in California. All the classes, online programs, and services the Kannas have accessed are available through publicly funded schools, school programs, and free or nominal-fee resources online. An education previously reserved for the wealthy is now available to all.

Your children can learn from the smartest people in the world and access the best quality curricula and other innovative public resources that together are creating a revolution in the quality of U.S. education.


Somewhere around the year 1449, a man named Gutenberg created a new technology that revolutionized how humanity learned and shared knowledge. The printing press increased literacy and supported an exchange of ideas that previously had been denied to all but a select few.

Virtual schooling is similarly positioned to create a twenty-first-century revolution that will change our society. Like the printing press, virtual schooling gives us previously unavailable access, choice, and power when it comes to shaping our children's education. Whether it is access to the contents of a rare book, the best math curriculum in the world, experts in every field of study imaginable, or AP courses taught at an elite institution, you can utilize today's technology to personalize your child's education according to his or her needs.

Just as Gutenberg's printing press expanded the amount of available information in Europe more than 500 years ago, virtual schooling is creating a revolution in education and an exponential leap in humanity's capabilities.


If we want to change the wallpaper settings on our smart phone, we turn to our smart 12-year-old instead of trudging through the manual. Our children "speak" the digital language. Having grown up in a digital world, they are digital natives, while we parents are digital immigrants. Growing up with all things digital has made them proficient multitaskers: answering text messages in a new text-speak, often hundreds a day while surfing the Internet, doing their homework, listening to music on their iPod, and checking into their favorite chat room at the same time. They also play video games and online role-playing games, in which a large number of players interact with each other in a virtual world. Growing up digital allows them to understand the language of our new digital landscape.

But we send our "digital natives" to schools created over 150 years ago.

The "common school movement" that Horace Mann, Henry Barnard, and other education reformers created in 1852 was designed for the training of future factory workers. School children were treated like automobiles on a factory assembly line. Teachers and curriculum were the production-line workers, planting information into children before dispatching them to the next station. It was a one-size-fits-all approach, with textbooks, blackboards, and limited learning resources available for children who where headed to factories for their entire work life. That is a period of history that no longer exists and a student that no longer exists.

Today's children learn differently.

They have lived only in a digital world. They learn, communicate and play utilizing digital devices and computers. They require—and deserve—an education tailored to the digital world they'll work in, far removed from the factories of a distant past.


According to the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) website (, online learning is growing at a pace of 30 percent annually and 44 states have significant supplemental online programs. Clayton Christensen, in Disrupting Class, states that enrollments in state-accredited online courses went from 45,000 in 2000 to roughly one million in 2007. Christensen estimates that by 2019, less than ten years from now, with a looming shortage of teachers and widespread state budget crises, enrollment in online learning will surpass that of live instruction.

Virtual schooling started as a disruptive technology, a technological innovation that improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. Because disruptive innovations tend to be simpler and more affordable than existing products, they become the norm within a new market or arena of competition. These innovations start to handle more complicated problems, and then they take over and supplant the old way of doing things. Computer-based learning first became popular for AP classes, rural schools with a shortage of courses or qualified teachers, urban schools in low-income areas, and homeschooling families. Next, several visionary entrepreneurs saw the potential of leveraging this emerging technology to solve complicated problems facing the educational system. Entrepreneurs like Keith Oelrich and Ron Packard. Oelrich, CEO of Insight Schools, founded Insight Schools to help solve the U.S. epidemic of teenage dropouts. Ron Packard, CEO of K12, Inc. founded his technology-based curriculum company to level the playing field of access to a competitive education by offering a world-class curriculum and school to any child with access to a computer and a passion for learning.

Packard and Oelrich faced staunch opposition but held firm in their convictions that virtual schooling was the future of education as did many other virtual schooling innovators like Barbara Dreyer, CEO of Connections Academy and Julie Young, president and CEO of Florida Virtual School. Their independent, yet congruent missions required spending thousands of hours to educate legislators, school administrators, and teachers that public virtual education should and could be an option for every child in the country. A mission they are all still pursuing today.

* * *

With the click of a mouse, a child with a passion for learning has the ability to break down barriers imposed by income, race, distance, or their school's limited coursework and class offerings. That innovation is propelling virtual education to develop at breakneck speed. So fast that we don't know how virtual schooling will be defined in the future. Never before have so many options existed for parents and children to leverage the expertise of people and learning opportunities from all around the world.

But the human interaction necessary to educate a child—to engage students, teachers, and parents is the foundation of learning. Regardless of the technological advances for learning, nothing can replace you and your commitment to your child's success.


Technology alone won't transform education. Taking our current model of one-size-fits-all education and delivering it from an online-learning school platform or other cutting-edge digital delivery method is like taking a Model T, adding new tires, and hoping it will fulfill the needs of car drivers today. This is a short-sighted attempt at leveraging the benefits of technology for education. Any virtual school program or curriculum must respect how each of its students learns best. We believe this new model of education, virtual schooling, represents the nexus of engaged human involvement and the new delivery method for curriculum and programs.

Accordingly, we define virtual schooling by the potential it holds: We see it as a personalized learning approach accomplished by leveraging the best of virtual and classroom-based schools and programs tailored to a child's needs and interests. Virtual schooling holds the potential to be the twenty-first century educational approach that can best address every child as an individual with a dominant learning style, myriad intelligences, a unique learning pace, and unique aspirations.

A child that is nurtured to respect how he or she learns best, the pace at which he or she likes to learn, along with his or her intelligences, unique talents, and passions, will learn to respect that elegant mix for the rest of his or her life. Christopher Paolini, author of the best-selling Eragon book series, graduated from high school at the age of 15 after having participated in an accredited correspondence program. That program allowed him to work at his own pace and afforded him the freedom to explore his love for nature and literature. Now, all children can have that same opportunity.


Across the country, we ask our teachers to do the impossible every day—educate twenty-first-century children in a nineteenth-century-inspired model of education.

All too often, the maxim in public school teaching is "Teach to the middle." This means that the level of instruction and assignments may be too easy for the top third of the class and too hard for the bottom third. The result? The brightest go unchallenged, which leads to distraction. The below-average achiever is overwhelmed, often humiliated and angry, and they, too, gradually check out. Could this student lethargy and "checking out" be part of the dire public school statistics today? According to the Milken Institute, by the year 2015, 80 percent of the world's scientists will come from Asia, contributing to the valid concern that our students are not being groomed and trained for critical scientific careers.

The Average Joe graduating from the factory-model K–12 education system is underprepared to compete in our technology-centric workforce. We send our digital natives to school and many graduate underqualified for a career in technology, forcing U.S. businesses to recruit employees from other countries, or, worse, outsource the work entirely.

Alone, each of these statistics and changes in society is alarming. Collectively, they represent an intellectual crisis. "We need an intellectual change," says Susan Hackwood, executive director of the California Council on Science and Technology and a virtual schooling parent. Whose job is it to fix the growing disconnect between our K–12 education system and the skills our children need to succeed? Is it the government's place, our boards' of Education, or our teachers'? Yes to all of the above, but more than anything, the responsibility is ours. Technology is redefining the way we live. Education is no exception. Gone are the days when we can settle for limiting the involvement in our child's education to helping with homework, joining the PTA and attending school functions. Our children need us to be their advocates to ensure they receive the twenty-first-century education the new workplace demands. While some schools are excellent, not all schools are created equal. No one has a stronger desire to see a child succeed than her parents. Gandhi once said: "Be the change you want to see in the world." America needs our children to be the intellectual change we must see in our world.


Youth in America access the Internet and are quickly inundated with the latest "news" about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, but how many of them have gone online to read about Richard Sandor? How many have heard about Richard Sandor? Richard Sandor, economist and professor, wrote a prescient paper on how to solve a potentially catastrophic environmental challenge we were facing in the 1970s. His paper was the catalyst for finding a way to solve the acid rain problem. With his collaboration, the Clean Air Act passed and contributed to eliminating the challenge to our environment.

Fast-forward to 1992, when Sandor wrote another paper proposing a solution to global warming. Sandor then launched the first trading system for greenhouse emissions to combat CO2.

Sandor has made helping save the planet his life's work. Paris Hilton has made being a celebrity, taking advantage of photo opportunities, and attending parties her life's work. But which one does your child know about? How do we protect our children from seeing a limited and dumbed-down version of what is going on in the world and help to expose them to what is truly important? We change the lens they are using. If your teen attends UC Berkeley, they might have an opportunity to learn from Steven Chu, Nobel Prize–winning professor and now the U.S. secretary of energy. Today, any teen with an iPod, iPhone, or iPod Touch can listen to Chu's lectures on solving our energy needs. Does your child have a passion for design or art? The New York Public Library has a miniseries at iTunes U that features artists and designers, from glassblowers to letterpress printers. Mentors can be from the past as well. Einstein's discoveries teaching about time and space are no longer restricted to mentions in your child's textbooks. These are all free video and audio podcasts at iTunes U. By utilizing virtual mentors as part of your virtual schooling with your child, mentors are no longer restricted to a geographic location or an in-person relationship.


Excerpted from Virtual Schooling by Elizabeth Kanna, Lisa Gillis, Christina Culver. Copyright © 2009 Elizabeth Kanna, Lisa Gillis, Christina Culver. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Elizabeth Kanna is a new-market strategist who co-founded the largest homeschooling site on the Internet, and co-authored the movement's definitive guide, Homeschooling for Success. The school board president of a public virtual school, Kanna is also a veteran virtual schooling parent.

Lisa Gillis is a director at Insight Schools and is a recognized virtual education expert in the United States. A lifelong educator, she has held key posts developing, managing, and advocating for virtual schools. She is also a virtual schooling parent.

Christina Culver is an education policy expert and consultant having formally served in the U.S. Department of Education.

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