VLACS is part of a nationwide boom: In the last decade, the number of full-time virtual schools has grown from a handful to over 450, enrolling more than 260,000 full-time students and millions more part time.
Virtual schools promise flexibility and a universe of learning just keystrokes away. But a slew of recent studies have found lackluster performance at online schools, seriously tarnishing their promise. Amid all the bad news, VLACS stands out as an online success story. On average, the school’s full-time students typically equal or modestly exceed New Hampshire average scores on state reading and math tests, as well as on the SAT.
The secret to VLACS’s success may be that it does things differently from most virtual schools. It puts a focus on building strong student-teacher relationships. It breaks up traditional courses into specific skills and abilities, called “competencies,” that students master through a personalized blend of traditional lesson plans, offline projects and real-world experiences. Also, VLACS’s funding is based on student performance rather than enrollment.
Skills-based learning is enjoying the current trend led by some of the world’s largest companies. Over at IBM, who recently launched its Learning Lab online platform that curates lessons from some of the best online ed platforms in the world, education visionaries are betting big on competencies over theory-based learning. One such visionary, Steven Kuyan of NYU suggested: “We have yet to realize the implications and potential of online learning.”