Administrators LEAD & MANAGE MY SCHOOL
Innovations in Education: Connecting Students to Advanced Courses Online
December 2007
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Florida Virtual School

Orlando, Fla.


School Profile: Selected Variables a

Year Initiated 1997
Initiator District partnership with state grant funding
Types of Courses Offered APb
Honors
Core
Electives
Number of Courses Currently Offered 80
Total Enrollments Since Inception 20,000

a These data are reported by the school and are for the school year 2006–07.
b Advanced Placement

Started in 1997 by two Florida school districts, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) has since grown from five classes serving 77 students to more than 85 classes serving over 31,000 students in Florida and other states. In addition, individual districts can operate a franchise of FLVS whereby the district purchases a license to deliver FLVS online courses taught by its own teachers.

Two years after FLVS opened, the state appropriated money for the provider through a lineitem addition to the state budget. FLVS students earn a half credit for each semester of a course, and since 2003, Florida has provided per-pupil funding based on students' completion of half-credit (or one-semester) courses. FLVS expects to consistently grow by expanding its enrollment in existing classes, marketing a new middle school program, increasing the number of electives it offers in addition to core courses and a variety of advanced courses, and continuing to promote its courses in other states.

Through FLVS, students may take either halfcredit courses, which run for 18 weeks (i.e., one semester), or full-credit courses, which run for 36 weeks (i.e., two semesters). Courses range from middle school reading support and classes that prepare students for the SAT examination to honors academic and AP classes. In 2006–07, there were 2,348 enrollments, almost half by minority students, in 11 AP classes. All courses are accessible online around-the-clock and Web-based instruction often is supplemented by textbooks, CDs, and videos. Utilizing a modular course design in which content is organized in sequential sections, similar to units, FLVS requires students and instructors to participate in either synchronous (i.e., when people are communicating in real time) or asynchronous (i.e., when people are not online at the same time) discussions at the completion of each course section. The FLVS teachers make themselves available to students from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Student Recruitment and Enrollment

Florida legislation requires that FLVS grant priority to students from schools that are rural, lowperforming, high minority, or all of the above; students who need only one course to graduate; and students who are home- or hospitalbound. Priority placement does not eliminate course prerequisites. It simply allows priority students first access to age- and grade-appropriate classes.

Four regionally based external school counselors visit districts and schools to inform people about FLVS and promote participation in the learning opportunities it offers. Conversations with schools and districts have confirmed that they are well informed about FLVS, but FLVS leaders recognize that parents and students tend to be less aware of it. As a result, FLVS's director of Florida services has created a diversity initiative to increase communication among staff, parents, and students. In 2006–07, the external school counselors began working with community- and faith-based organizations to acquaint more community members with FLVS and encourage more minority students to take part. FLVS also runs ads in school newspapers and hopes to broadcast public service announcements in the future. In May 2007, FLVS ran a 15-second advertisement in three Florida movie theaters, targeting specifics areas of the state where they were seeking to increase enrollment.

FLVS has three internal guidance counselors who support students, parents, and teachers throughout the enrollment process. These counselors also assist students who are schooled at home, and they make presentations about FLVS at parent education conferences. FLVS furnishes schools' own guidance counselors with handouts, questionnaires, and access to students' FLVS records in order to help them explore FLVS options with students.

Seventy-two percent of FLVS students come from public schools; 21 percent are homeschooled; and 7 percent attend private schools. Students who want to take a class enroll online. FLVS's student-data management system, the Virtual Student Administrator (VSA), maintains up-to date statewide demographic and school performance information so that once students input their school and district, the VSA can automatically rank their placement priority based on the state's criteria, described earlier. School counselors and parents must log in to the system and approve the student's online course choice. FLVS seeks to expand access to advanced classes and, thus, any student can take honors or AP classes with counselor approval. Once enrolled in a class, a student has 28 days to withdraw without penalty.

Course Offerings

At FLVS, curriculum and instruction teams design and refine courses using the most contemporary online instruction tools. When necessary, the teams consult with outside technical experts. Each year, FLVS revises one-third of its courses so that every course is retooled at least once every three years.

FLVS's history of offering AP courses began in 1997–98 with AP computer science. In 2000–01, it added more AP classes at the behest of teachers across districts who had identified strong students interested in AP courses that their schools could not provide. In addition to teaching 11 AP courses, FLVS also offers free College Board AP exam reviews in 10 subjects to any Florida student who intends to take an AP exam, regardless of where he or she took the AP course. FLVS's AP students take the AP exams in their district, and FLVS reimburses the district for the cost of the exams.

All core academic courses, such as English and mathematics, are offered as either regular or honors classes. Students who elect the honors option complete additional work and are graded on a more rigorous scale. FLVS recently restructured teacher assignments so that instructors can teach both the AP and regular or honors versions of a course; in this way, students who find the AP course too challenging can drop back to honors and keep the same teacher.

Since receiving additional funding from the state starting three years ago, FLVS has added both regular and accelerated middle school classes. Students in eighth and 10th grades also may utilize FLVS's online preparation tool for Florida's statewide assessment, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Finally, students seeking to improve their SAT scores may enroll in a one-semester SAT prep class through FLVS.

Instruction, Mentoring, and Support

FLVS boasts a 95 percent teacher retention rate among its 425 full-time and 200 part-time state-certified instructors. Organizationally, two directors of instruction oversee three learning community leaders. In turn, each learning community leader oversees up to six instructional leaders, and each instructional leader oversees 50 to 60 teachers from different content areas in randomly assigned teams called "schoolhouses." The intent of having multiple disciplines represented in a schoolhouse is to bring together teachers who can share different perspectives about instruction so as to help others in the group think "outside of the box" when considering how to improve their own practice.

FLVS trains new instructors in online protocol, customer service expectations, and interactive learning tools. A highly formalized mentor program extends FLVS support for new teachers throughout their first year. FLVS uses more than 90 board-certified teachers to assist with new hires and six full-time FLVS instructors who provide formal mentor support. Mentors teach a half-course load and work with new instructors. All teachers have an annual enrollment completion goal that is based on the type of courses they are teaching; they are paid only for students who complete their courses, and they receive a bonus if they exceed their annual enrollment completion goal. A full-time reading coach supports instructors who are working with students who have reading challenges.

FLVS course instructors make welcome phone calls to introduce themselves to students and parents and to review the course pace and required materials. After the class starts, instructors are required to contact students and parents once a month to report on student progress. Interaction between the instructor and school staff is more variable; its type and frequency depend on student needs, such as the need for English language support.

FLVS staffs a dedicated technology team that manages hardware, handles software licensing (all software and online tools that FLVS uses are licensed from companies and the licenses must be kept up to date), and makes sure the server is operating so students and teachers can access the online courses. To provide help desk support for students and faculty, FLVS subcontracts with Innovations Port (iPort). It partners with other vendors to provide students with multimedia experiences, such as video streaming.

Funding

FLVS receives per-pupil funding from the state legislature based mostly on successful completion rates. In 2006, the Florida legislature recognized that FLVS had to use budgeted resources to provide educational services to students who did not finish course work, regardless of the reason for noncompletion or the length of time students spent in a course. This use of resources took away funding from students who finished courses. To compensate FLVS for students who did not complete their online courses, the state legislature modified the funding formula to add 11.4 percent to the unweighted full-time equivalent student count. If a public school student takes an FLVS class during school time, the funding for that class period goes to FLVS; if a public school student takes an FLVS class at home, the public school does not lose any funding. The per-pupil funding model has enabled FLVS to expand easily according to demand without charging in-state students directly. Out-of-state students pay a fee to enroll in FLVS classes.


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Last Modified: 10/05/2009