Originally conceived as a way to educate homeschoolers, full-time virtual charter schools have emerged recently as an alternative to public schools for a wide range of students, from bored overachievers to victims of bullying.

The virtual schools are paid for with public money, but their students learn largely from home, with lessons delivered online from teachers tens, hundreds or even thousands of miles away. There is no schoolhouse, playground, gymnasium or lunch hall, although under some models, students will meet occasionally for face-time sessions with each other and an educator.

In lower grades — virtual schools start at kindergarten — the programs typically rely on parents who act as “learning coaches,” following instructions that appear on their child’s computer. Older students do most of the work online themselves.

Teachers monitor and grade students remotely. They answer questions online or by telephone. Major national online teaching companies such as K12 Inc. have teacher-student ratios as high as 60-to-1.


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