Distance learning is hardly novel anymore. More than 60 percent of American higher education institutions offer online courses, as do a growing number of high schools. Michigan even passed a law in April that requires all public high school students to take an online class in order to graduate. But most Web-based courses are available only to kids enrolled in bricks-and-mortar high schools. Now there’s an option for those who are not.
Insight School of Washington, which will open its virtual doors (www.go2ischool.net) for the first time September 12, is part of a small group of online-only high schools. Instead of logging on merely to supplement their in-person courses, Washington state students enrolled at Insight will earn diplomas without ever setting foot on a campus. The school, which will operate through a partnership with the Quillayute Valley School District, will provide publicly funded education for students across the state.
Insight’s creators hope it will become the flagship in a national network of virtual public schools. Founder and CEO Keith Oelrich, who also led the private online Keystone National High School and the public iQAcademies in Wisconsin, envisions serving kids who do not attend traditional high schools. “If we weren’t around, these kids probably wouldn’t be attending schools at all,” Oelrich says.
Insight offers six academic tracks, ranging from remedial level to Advanced Placement, to accommodate students who aren’t in school for various reasons: full-time athletic training, serious illnesses, or the need to support families. The school’s founders also expect to attract homeschoolers eager for broader curricular choices.
Insight was slated to open with just a few hundred students. But administrators received more than 2,000 applications and were scrambling, as opening day approached, to hire enough state-certified teachers to handle as many as 800 kids. There are no entrance requirements for the first-come, first-served program, other than a consultation with an enrollment counselor to determine whether Insight is a good fit. About 15 percent of inquiries have come from adults, but since state funding for public education stops once a student hits 21, Insight has ruled out classes for older learners—at least for now.
There are skeptics, of course, who think students will miss out on interacting with peers. But Oelrich says that Insight will have a password-protected, online chatting environment where students can talk about non-school topics like sports and movies, and the school will organize face-to-face gatherings in communities. “More than half of our students will come from a place where they weren’t in public school anyway,” he adds, “so they’re used to getting socialization other ways.”