Economic meltdown notwithstanding, sometimes good ideas do leap from the marketplace. Exhibit A? Virtual schools, which are popping up nationwide like hybrids in San Fran. Typically founded under existing charter laws, these online learning arrangements have grown quickly and quietly to fill holes in the education market. Services are catered to students who are gifted, have special needs, live in rural areas, or are simply dissatisfied with local offerings. And the response has been positive. The largest provider in this school space, K12 Inc.*, now has 29 schools in 21 states serving 40,800 students. Chief exec Ron Packard says they're not stopping there. "I won't sleep until we're in all 50 states," quoth he. And he's not alone. DeVry, Kaplan, and Connections Academy, to name a few, are also making headway in the field. Edison is entering, too. But not everyone is gaga for virtual learning. Teachers unions have criticized the web-based schools for "no or extremely limited direct personal interaction." And let's admit that there are some sleazy operators running mediocre e-schools in too many places. Some dirty bathwater ought to be discarded--but please not the baby. These schools take "personal" to a whole new level with individualized learning and curricula--and cost less than their location-based brethren to boot. It's no wonder this field is getting more competitive. 

*Disclaimer: Checker Finn is on their education advisory committee.

"Virtual school chalks up gains," by Veronica Dagher, The Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2008

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