For most students, the daily trek to school means gathering up books and climbing aboard a school bus or the family van. But for a few, school is as close as their computer screen. A small but growing number of "cyberschools" now conduct classes, give grades and even award diplomas through the Internet.
"We're legitimizing the distance learning approach for secondary school," said Glen W. Blomgren, executive director of Christa McAuliffe Academy, based in Yakima, Wash. The school currently enrolls 262 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Blomgren notes that approximately 85 percent of the students are high school age, though efforts are currently under way to expand middle school enrollment. The school delivers its curriculum via a server housed at the University of Illinois and provides an online mentor for every student.
"A lot of people who are unhappy with their schools are surfing the Web to find solutions," notes Frank McCollum, principal of Internet Home School (INS), based in Apple Valley, Calif. INS currently has signed up 30 students for the new year, a figure McCollum expects will more than double by the time classes begin.
Much of the clientele for online schools comes from the ranks of home-schoolers, which number more than 1 million strong. Students who attend cyberschools are considered as homeschooled students under the law. As yet there is no accreditation process for online K-12 schools, though some do advertise accreditation that is generally based on evaluation of a "real" school operated by the same entity.