Spotlight on Technology: Virtual High Schools

By Kellie Kim and Becky Smerdon (guest authors)

Currently offered to students in 44 states and the District of Columbia[1], Virtual High Schools address a broad range of educational needs, from offering credit recovery classes to expanding access to rigorous classes and accelerated learning options such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses. For example, Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS) offers more than 100 courses, including core subjects, world languages, electives, honors, and over 14 AP courses.[2] The North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) intends to close learning gaps by providing access to courses and accelerated programs (i.e., dual enrollment courses) that students are unable to take in their local brick-and-mortar schools.[3]

Despite the considerable growth of Virtual High Schools, the hopes and expectations of those who believe that virtual schools will transform K-12 education have not yet been tested. The existing research on virtual schooling has focused on its effectiveness in comparison to face-to-face classroom environments, stakeholders' perception of receiving instruction in online courses, or the forms and types of interactive communication taking place in online classrooms. While findings from these studies shed light on the potential of virtual schools, they fail to test if VHSs are living up to current expectations by, for example, expanding opportunity and access to content and quality instruction, extending learning time, and filling unmet needs of districts and schools. It is important that states and districts seek to determine whether virtual high schools can cost effectively meet these current expectations before allocating resources to expand online learning options.

Guest Authors:  Kellie Kim is Managing Director, Education Strategies and Applied Research, at Quill Research Associates, LLC. Becky Smerdon is founder and Managing Director of Quill Research Associates, LLC and a member of the National High School Center Editorial Team.


Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

[1] Watson, Gemin, Ryan, & Wicks, 2009

[2] Florida Virtual School [FLVS] (n.d.). Quick Facts. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from:

[3] North Carolina Virtual Public School (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved October 27. 2010 from: 

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