The purpose and potential of virtual high schools: a national Study of virtual high schools and their head administrators.

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The purpose and potential of virtual high schools: a national Study of virtual high schools and their head administrators.

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Purpose: The purpose of this study was to investigate the emerging world of virtual high schools and the people who lead them to better understand virtual schooling’s purpose and potential, particularly within the context of public education in the United States. Data collection and analysis: The mixed-methods study used three sequential phases. The first was a document analysis of the 142 virtual school Web sites listed on the NACOL Clearinghouse List (the only national list available) to identify key characteristics of the schools and programs. The second was a survey of the head administrators of all these schools (n=58, response rate = 46%), with 27 questions focusing on enrollment information, mission and purpose, curriculum and instruction, school management and leadership, and head administrators’ personal and professional characteristics. The third phase, semi-structured interviews of eight of the survey respondents, addressed exploratory questions about their work, their school, beliefs about virtual schooling, and predictions for the future. The head administrators interviewed were from the five main types of virtual schools (state, public school/district, charter, private, and university-based). Qualitative analysis was done with a blend of an immersive approach and a template analysis. Findings: In terms of basic characteristics, there appear to be some patterns emerging, particularly by virtual school type. Virtual school administrators believed that K-12 virtual schools will continue to expand and that online learning will become a mainstream component of K-12 students’ education. They believed a key purpose of virtual schools is to individualize students’ educational experiences, both in terms of increasing course options and for personalizing instruction. Those leading the publicly funded virtual schools (state, charter and district/school) believed a purpose of virtual schools is to reform the traditional education systems. Head administrators surveyed shared a variety of characteristics and described their work as similar to a traditional principal with an emphasis on instructional leadership and marketing. They were of the first generation of virtual school leaders and came to their roles as experienced educators who had a desire to innovate and to transform education.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. November 2009. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisor: Karen Seashore. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 157 pages, appendices A-F.

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Brown, Rachel Anne. (2009). The purpose and potential of virtual high schools: a national Study of virtual high schools and their head administrators.. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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