The Adolescent Politics of Virtual Education

Tom Vander Ark:

In 1995, I was sure that the explosion of the web would result in a good deal of online learning competition — and fast. I may have been right about the first but not the second. It took a dozen years for online learning to get big and competitive, but it is finally a force to be reckoned with. Next month there will be close to two million students learning online at home and at school.
Back then I was superintendent in Federal Way Washington, between Seattle and Tacoma. We were a founding district in Microsoft’s Anytime Anywhere Learning initiative and began rolling out laptop programs to all of our secondary schools. The brave new world of education blending the best of online and onsite learning seemed right around the corner.
In September 1996, we opened the Internet Academy, the nation’s first K-12 virtual school. It was a bootstrapped operation; a group of intrepid teachers staying a day ahead of the kids and testing the application of the state’s seat time requirements.
Enrollment quickly grew to over 1,000 students with about half new to public education (i.e., home and private school students) with an even split between students seeking acceleration and those seeking credit recovery. For most of a decade, Internet Academy had Washington’s virtual space to itself.