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Meeting of the Board of Regents | November 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009 - 8:30am

sed seal                                                                                                 





John B. King, Jr.


Virtual High School Initiative


November 9, 2009


Goals 1 and 2






Policy Issue for Decision

Does the Board of Regents wish to develop a virtual high school initiative in New York State?

Policy Recommendation

              The Regents should endorse the development of a virtual high school initiative to provide approved rigorous courses that are aligned with objective assessments of college readiness. 

Background Information

        Last month, the Board of Regents approved a policy on making up course credit that will include digital learning (online study) as one of several options available to students for making up course credit.  During that discussion, the Regents suggested the possibility of expanding the use of virtual learning to provide all students greater access to rigorous, content rich instruction, aligned to NYS Learning Standards. 

The New York Comprehensive Center has undertaken some preliminary research on virtual high schools for the Department.  At present, approximately thirty-eight states offer some type of virtual learning option to students.  These options range from a limited number of online courses to full virtual high school diploma programs.  A review of the literature suggests that there are at least four types of virtual high schools, which include:


  • Public Virtual High Schools – publicly funded, no cost to students
  • Virtual Charter Schools – publicly funded, no cost to students
  • University-Sponsored Virtual High Schools – costs, admissions policies and program requirements vary widely
  • Private Virtual High Schools – costs and quality vary widely


In addition, students in traditional high schools in New York State are currently participating in both in-person and distance learning courses that incorporate varying degrees of on-line learning provided by districts, BOCES, and private vendors.

There are benefits and risks related to the creation of virtual high school initiatives.

Benefits include:


  • Students can access online courses from a variety of locations at various times and have significant scheduling flexibility, with the ability to arrange classes around their work schedules and other responsibilities.
  • Students in non-traditional school settings (e.g., incarcerated youth, hospitalized students, students attending a school closed due to weather or illness) can pursue a course of study to its conclusion.
  • Students can work at their own pace, accelerating through courses or taking time as needed.
  • Advances in on-line instructional technology can make possible rich, multimedia learning experiences tailored to students’ individual needs (including adjusting course materials and assessments in response to student performance)
  • On-line learning can provide an alternative for students who might not have access to particular courses (e.g., international economic development, AP Physics) because of inadequate enrollment in the course or a lack of access to a teacher highly qualified to teach the course
  • Some students are able to earn a high school diploma and enter college or enter the workforce at an accelerated rate.
  • Some students benefit from alternate ways of learning such as online courses that may match their individual learning styles. 
  • Consistent, intensive teacher instructional support can be provided by a certified teacher in multiple ways in an on-line learning context: in-person support, asynchronous on-line communication, and synchronous on-line communication


Risks include:


  • Resource limitations, both fiscal and expertise, may preclude the development and implementation of a necessary quality assurance system.
  • Virtual high schools that operate solely via on-line instruction lack the social experiences of traditional high schools (e.g., clubs, athletic teams, extra-curricular activities).
  • Some students may find it more difficult to achieve mastery of course outcomes without direct, regular in-person instruction from a certified teacher.
  • Some high school students may lack the maturity, organization skills and self-direction to complete course outcomes in an independent environment.
  • Some online programs are limited to certain populations of students based upon geographic location (residency), cost factors, and/or pre-requisite admission policies.


              If the Regents agree, staff will develop a proposal for the creation of a virtual high school initiative in New York State for the Regents consideration.