Case study: Florida Virtual School

The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) has served as a model given its status as the first statewide virtual public school.  Its story is an interesting one – well documented in this recently released case study authored by Katherine Mackey and Michael B. Horn of the InnoSight Institute.  The case study is a quick read (more of a story) about the vision, dedication, and policy that led to the “…development of a disruptive, scalable educational model that has impacted Florida and beyond…”

First, some key facts:

  • Growth – the school opened in 1998 with 77 students in six courses.  By 2008, enrollments exceeded 154,000. 
  • Vision – the developers created the motto, “Any time, any place, any path, any pace,” to “…reflect its philosophy that learning was an ongoing activity not confined solely to classrooms and class schedules.”
  • Funding – the school was conceived with $200,000 grant in 1997.  Then, funding for the school became a line item in Florida’s legislature budget, providing a fixed amount and limiting the number of students served.  In 2003, the Florida Legislature voted to include FLVS in the state funding formula for K–12 education and approved a performance-based program in which the school would only receive per-pupil funds for those students who successfully completed and passed their courses.  “A performance-based funding system made FLVS more accountable in some respects than brick and mortar schools, and it also enabled the school to escape seat-time restrictions and thereby preserve the flexibility that was key to online learning.”
  • Curriculum – due to the limited online curriculum options in 1997, FLVS developed and continues to develop their own curriculum.
  • Staff – teachers are hired on annual contracts (no tenure) which allows for high accountability and performance.
  • Student performance – to date, no control-group studies have been conducted to test whether students learn better from FLVS courses than traditional classes (although, there have been studies done comparing online learning – in general – to traditional learning – see previous post).  However, students who completed Advanced Placement courses at FLVS received higher average scores on 2008 AP exams than did Florida students overall and outscored the nation in several subjects.

Interesting take-aways:

  • FLVS is truly a disruptive innovation.  The developers accomplished a vision and concept at a time when K-12 online learning was undefined.  “Almost all disruptions begin by serving so-called non-consumers—people who are not consuming the existing products or services in a market because of such barriers as cost, inconvenience, inaccessibility, or complexity.”
  • FLVS’ story highlights how far the industry has come.  Now, there are many curriculum, data management options, offering robust and comprehensive solutions. 
  • FLVS’ autonomy and business savvy perspective made a world of difference.  At the same time that Florida Legislature established the school as an independent educational entity, FLVS asked for and gained permission from the legislature to sell its curriculum and training to other states and jurisdictions as well as offer courses to out-of-state students for a fee (FLVS courses had been and still are free for Florida residents) with the stipulation that all revenue earned from such sales would go back into the school to support course and program development.  This led to the creation of a separate division, called Florida Virtual Global Services, offering curriculum options, teacher and leadership training.  “In the 2008-09 school year, Global Services served 743 students in 1,482 enrollments and generated nearly $4 million in revenue.”  Julie Young, one of the founding principals, explains, “That’s money we could not have found elsewhere.  It’s utilizing an asset to make the asset stronger.”  FLVS went on to offer customized franchises for each district.  “The franchises, which served 4,832 students in 12,849 enrollments in the 2008–09 school year, were a win-win situation. The districts enjoyed having some local control, and, for FLVS, it opened up more class seats to serve more students.”
  • With a strong foundation, FLVS can now continue to innovate.  Using revenue from Global Services, FLVS partnered with 360ED to develop an immersive learning game, Conspiracy Code, which teaches an entire course in American History.  The University of Central Florida will perform both psychological and neurobiological research on some of the students enrolled in the course to further understand the role of games in education.  “Given its online platform that changed the assumptions around time and the role of the teacher, FLVS is uniquely positioned to leverage games and simulations in its courses.”