Building a virtual program in your district? Examine these 3 factors in potential partners.

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In recent years, virtual programs have become more and more popular as brick-and-mortar schools explore solutions for students who have been temporarily quarantined, prefer to learn from home, or simply need more flexibility in their schedules. Across the country, virtual programs are becoming a need-to-have rather than a nice-to-have. But where do you start when evaluating the seemingly endless options? If you’re a district or school leader in charge of planning, starting, or transitioning a virtual program, you’ll want to make sure to evaluate your options thoroughly to avoid costly mistakes. Here are a few areas you should examine closely during your decision-making process. 

Funding model 
In the U.S., public school student funding is largely allocated on a per-student basis, contributing a significant amount to most districts’ budgets. Some virtual program models function as charter schools within a state, using their own staff and requiring payment as a percentage of your school or district’s per-student funding. “Historically those types of models have not proven to be the best in terms of test scores or student learning,” says Christy Cleugh, Director of National Partnerships for ASU Prep Digital. Instead of sacrificing your per-student funding, she recommends looking for providers or partners your school or district can pay directly. In addition, if your district has curriculum adoption funds, you might opt for virtual courses that can be deployed using your own teachers and staff. “This allows for district-level control,” says Cleugh, “Not only that, but it helps ensure providers are actually there to support your local communities, your local students, and their outcomes.” 

Instructional strategy
One common misconception in developing a virtual program is the assumption it only requires an investment in digital curriculum or courses. “Curriculum makes up only half, if not less, of your digital school,” says Teresa King, Director of National Partnerships for ASU Prep Digital. “Your success will be contingent on the power of your instructional model, and you cannot have an online program without online teachers.” You should expect that the majority of your budget for any virtual program will be used to support recruiting, training, maintaining, and evaluating virtual teachers, whether you plan to leverage your existing staff or bring on additional virtual instructors through a partnership. Regardless, the most successful virtual programs all have one thing in common—full-time, high-quality, and professionally certified teachers. “You want online instructors that engage with students and their families,” says King. “That engagement piece is what keeps online students coming back and makes your program successful.”  

Stakeholder involvement 
If you’re considering working with a for-profit education company, take some time to evaluate all the stakeholders involved, including existing or potential shareholders. It’s not uncommon for educational companies to be publicly traded, meaning they’re beholden to shareholders who expect them to continually grow and expand their bottom line. This isn’t always a negative, but it can become one if the company has a history of churning through students and enrollments just to meet its business goals. “I always suggest doing a simple Google search regarding any potential partners,” says Cleugh. Specifically, you should look for any history of legal action, lobbyist activity, and even other names the company may have operated under. “If you’re looking for a collaborative partnership, do your homework,” says King. “Examine your options so you can make an educated choice about who you want representing you.”

Partner with ASU Prep Digital
ASU Prep Digital is an accredited online K-12 school providing districts with single online courses, full-time virtual programs, innovative learning recovery solutions, and professional development options. We would love to collaborate and develop a customized program for your school’s needs. For information about partnering with ASU Prep Digital, please email