Review of a Virtual Academy That Uses the K12 Curriculum
I chose to post this information for a couple of different reasons. First, I myself was searching the net looking for some honest opinions of one of the virtual academies using the K12 curriculum, but was unable to find any. Second, the "reviews" or opinions I did find, seemed only to be posted by those who had never actually even used the K12 curriculum. Further, the people posting had never even actually interracted with a virtual academy in any way. This made the opinions I did read pretty unreliable, since these individuals couldn't possibly have a true account of a virtual academy experience, if they'd never even had the experience to begin with. These "reviews" were all posted by self-stated homeschoolers or members of homeschooling associations, who all came across as very hostile towards the whole idea of a virtual academy, so their opinions were pretty negative. I'm the first to say everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I found much of what was being said about the virtual academy experience in these "reviews" highly inaccurate. Considering none of the individuals from these particular sites I found had ever actually USED a virtual academy, I suppose the inaccuracy of the information isn't surprising. However, incase you're visiting this site because you are considering a virtual academy and would like an honest account of the experience from a parent who has actually utilized a virtual academy, hopefully you'll find some useful information here.
Okay, THAT being said....My daughter was enrolled in a virtual academy last school year (2003-04), for 7th Grade. We received all of our materials and computer over the course of about a week, if I remember correctly. The materials (coursebooks, workbooks, art supplies, science equipment, etc.) were packaged according to subject, in sturdy boxes with handles, which stayed in great condition all year. We used them all year, which made it easy to keep materials for separate subjects well organized and easily accessible. The computer was a really nice one, I can't remember the brand (IBM,I think), but it ran great all year. The computer comes completely programmed and formatted to work perfectly with the K12 website and online courses.
So, in a nutshell, this is the routine: Each day that your child is going to do school work, you go to the K12 website. You log on, and are automatically directed to your child's records. There is a tab to click on for assignments, one for attendance, one to view your child's progress, etc. You get your child's assignments for that day, which usually requires book work, at least for the 7th Grade. There also may documents listed that you click on and open, and it might be a piece of literature, an article, etc. They may be worksheets that you can print (we didn't print them usually, my daughter would jot the answers on a piece of paper-saved ink, time and paper that way!) There are also online assessments, and these are all listed along with the days' assignments, that your child clicks on, opens, and answers questions just by clicking on what they believe to be the correct answers. Kind of like an online quiz you'd take on any magazine website. Also, for Music and Art, there were many hands on assignments. My daughter did a ton of painting, sculpting, weaving, etc. throughout the year, along with learning about fine art. She listened to the music of several composers, and also did many science experiments, such as building a seismograph (sp?), and studying rocks and minerals in the kit that was sent with her materials. She was required to read several novels, some of which were The Lord of The Rings, The Outsiders, The Hobbit, etc. (There was a list on the website of acceptable novels to read and be tested on, and she was able to choose several of them herself, it was a long list, so there's bound to be something that would satisfy most tastes and abilities.) Once the child has taken the assessment and received a correct percentage high enough to be considered "mastered", the assignment is clicked complete, and the child moves on. One of the things I really liked about this program was that on the few occassions when my daughter did not get enough correct on the assessment for the material contained in it to be considered "mastered", she was required to do it again. In public school, if she were to receive a low score, the class just moved on, the material was not reviewed to be sure that everyone was understanding it. In her case, this isn't a huge issue, because fortunately for her, she's highly capable academically. But not everyone is, and so this factor of reviewing strikes me as really beneficial.
At the end of every day, you go to the "Attendance" screen, which is just a tab you click on, and enter how much time your child spent on each subject that day. It was very easy. For 7th Grade, we were required to put in about 6 hours per day, I believe. But, that doesn't just include seat work. If my daughter went out to swim or ride her bike, or we went on a family hike in the mountains, that counted as P.E. time. If we went to the library to look at a book about a composer she was learning about, or practiced piano for an hour, that counted as time towards Music. If, when she was studying earthquakes, we went online to read articles of past earthquakes and their effect on the areas they had hit, or watched a Discovery Channel program about earthquakes, that was time counted towards Science. It's really nice to be able to supplement what your child is learning in different ways that you can think of to really help them grasp the concept being taught. It's wonderful to not be restricted to your home in order to do so. The "reviews" I had read were so critical of the amount of time being required per day, but we didn't find it too difficult to fullfill the requirement. In fact, at the end of the year, we had gone significantly over the requirement. And so it goes. Just like homeschoolers, we were easily able to adjust the schedule to be convenient to the rest of our lives. There is a tool on the website that allows you to go in and change what days your child will or will not be attending school, there are no "fixed" days that cannot be changed. For instance, we were taking a week long vacation to Disneyland in October, but would not need a full 2 weeks off at Christmas time. So, I just switched some days. If we missed a day during the week for some reason (like a trip to the zoo or movies, or a picnic up in the mountains), we just made it up on the weekend. Personally, I found it really convenient. What I really loved was that, like traditional homeschoolers, we could take our work with us if we wanted (although I don't think we ever did), my daughter could stop to eat when she was actually hungry, or she could go outside when she really needed some light and air. In fact, there were many times she sat out on the front deck in a camping chair in the sunshine while she did her Math, she said it was easier to concentrate out there. She could run to the restroom without missing any of the lesson. The "reviewers" seemed also critical of the fact that the material was to all be covered, but personally, I thought that was great. I knew my bases were covered, I didn't have to worry that we were missing a concept or component, as the curriculum is very, very thorough. It's all organized and set up in a way that means you don't have to spend your time researching what your child is to be learning in that subject for that grade, which is what I did for my son last year who homeschooled most of his Kindergarten year. Two other things that the "reviewers" seemed really critical of, were the facts that students enrolled in a virtual academy are technically and legally enrolled in a public school, and also that they participate in the standardized testing for their state. I personally don't mind at all that my child is enrolled technically in a public school, for me it only meant that again, my bases were covered---no affidavits to fill out, no worries that some state agency is going to try to say that I'm neglecting my children in some way by not sending them to school outside my home. And as far as the standardized testing, I know that many traditional homeschoolers feel downright hostile towards it, although I don't fully understand why. But again, I totally believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, and many of them may have some really good points as to why they oppose it. Personally, it doesn't bother me, and with the virtual academy, it was such a much better experience than in the public schools my daughter attended. With public school, it was stretched out over a 2 week period (schools want as many odds on their side of the student's doing well in at least a couple of subjects, I'm sure!), and also, the school's she attended (there were only 2) really were guilty of "teaching to the test", so much so, that once the testing was done, they didn't really teach anything else for the remainder of the year, and I'm not exaggerating. Also, in public school, my daughter was really stressed about testing, she even had one teacher in either 4th, 5th, or 6th grade, go so far as to tell her it would affect her grades!!! Fortunately, I knew better and told her so, but still. With the virtual academy, testing took place on just one day. My daughter went to a local county office building, the kids from the area tested in a really comfortable, well-lit, environment, with a couple of very, very nice teachers supervising and administering the tests. The children were able to keep their sack lunches and snacks with them at the table so that they could eat when they were hungry...my daughter said she really enjoyed the whole experience. She also tested very well...according to her Stanford pupil home report, she tested among the highest in her entire grade nationally for Reading, and in the highest range possible for Math. Her lowest percentile rank in any subject was 81.7. So not only did the virtual academy experience fit into our lives well, it also served my daughter very well academically.
At the end of the school year, my daughter received a progress report, stating for each subject that she had completed 100% of her assignments, and had mastered them all. We packed up her computer and materials in the same boxes we had received them, and K12 sent a FedEx truck to her our house to pick them up at a day and time of our choosing.
My daughter chose to go to the local Jr. High this year, just because she was getting antsy hanging around the house every day, and she's kind of a little socialite and LOVES to be with other people and has a ton of friends that she wanted to get to see on a daily basis. The progress report from the virtual academy was perfectly sufficient for re-enrollment, we had no problems, and she was placed back in the "Gifted" classes. Although she's been back at public school for only a week and two days, she's already missing the flexibility that the virtual academy offered. Also, I don't believe for a second that she's as academically stimulated at the Jr. High as she was with the virtual academy. But we all need balance too, and for now, what she needed for balance was to interract with her peers every day, and I understand that.
I have enrolled my son into 1st Grade with the virtual academy this year, although we haven't yet received his equipment/materials. For us, utilizing a virtual academy really is kind of the best of both worlds, it's much like homeschooling in many ways, with the convenience of the assignments being all set up for you, attendance being tracked for you, etc. And if you aren't opposed to the technicality of your child being legally enrolled in a public school (even though they never actually have to GO anywhere), or the fact that in some grades they'd be required to participate in standardized testing for your state, then you get all the benefits of a homeschooling environment and way of life, as well. Whew! I am DONE! I hope this was helpful to you! Good luck!