If you’re at any number of public places in Pennsylvania during the school year, perhaps you’ll witness what Joe Lyons describes as “The Sea of Orange” – dozens or even hundreds of school children clad in orange shirts imprinted with a white bell. You might guess it’s a field trip, but it’s not the school you’d expect. The kids, after all, attend virtual school. “We’re very dedicated to the social development of our students. It’s part of our mission,” explains Lyons, executive director of communications for the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School (PAVCS).
The sea of orange reveals just one major way the face of education is changing. Online K-12 learning is a $300 million market representing over 1 million students and growing, at an annual rate of about 30%. The PAVCS alone enrolls 3,800 and holds events across the state, including a “Discovery Days” event that functions both as a year-end celebration and the school’s open house/enrollment kick-off. During those events, the school hands out a variety of logoed merchandise, including imprinted apparel, journals and visors. In addition, the school advertises in print, radio, television and Internet media.
“Charter-school laws in Pennsylvania require that you install open enrollment,” says Lyons, “which means that you have to be open to everyone. The way they ensure that is that we are all required to do marketing.”
Virtual charter schools may represent the wave of the future, but it’s quickly becoming the reality of the present. Students across the country and world now enroll full-time or can supplement their normal classes by taking additional ones online.
For Mike Connor, president of school consultancy Connor Associates Strategic Services, online learning has arrived. “In terms of mastering educational content, it’s going to be more cheaply delivered and delivered toward the way a kid learns through online learning,” he says. “I think that’s going to change the whole ball game.”