The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, New Hampshire's first online school, was recently certified by the NCAA, the primary governing body of intercollegiate athletics, under the organization's newly adopted standards for online schools. The move reflects increasing legitimacy given to some online institutions and also a general acknowledgment of the range of quality in online education.
The NCAA adopted what it considered more stringent standards for online schools in May, in part to prevent student athletes from skirting rigorous coursework for what it worried were more lenient online classes. In June, it revoked certification from Brigham Young University's independent-study programs for high school students and the American School, a correspondence program based in Lansing, Ill.
To meet NCAA requirements, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School had to meet standards for:
• length and content of core courses
• teacher-student interaction
• availability of student work for review/validation
• defined time limit for coursework
The last of those recommendations has drawn particular ire of some online education advocates who say one of virtual education's biggest benefits is that it can allow students to work at their own pace. NCAA officials have contended that students who cannot complete coursework in a set time are not prepared for college.
Athletes receiving scholarships to compete in the NCAA's Division I and Division II programs have to meet standardized test and academic grade benchmarks to be scholarship eligible. While the path for many athletes not meeting those benchmarks has traditionally led to an extra year in private preparatory schools, more appear to be turning online for credit recovery courses.
The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School has been operational since the winter of 2008 as a free alternative both for New Hampshire's traditional high school students and for students who have dropped out of the state's brick-and-mortar schools. It was not previously certified by the NCAA under its old guidelines, according to school CEO Steve Kossakoski.
The number of NCAA-certified virtual schools nationwide was not immediately available.