Virtual School Meanderings

January 5, 2010

Online Teachers: Full-Time vs. Part-Time

Last year when I was doing the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog by Darren Rowse, one of the daily tasks was to Make a Reader Famous and one of the ways he listed for doing that was “Promote a comment to a Post”. This entry is an example of this suggestion.

Before Christmas I posted an entry about the role that Mississippi PBS played in K-12 distance education in that state prior to the advent of virtual schooling (see K-12 Distance Education In Mississippi And Mississippi PBS).  One of my readers posted this comment:

Next door in Louisiana, we had a partnership with public television in the 1990s to offer course content via television broadcasting (after 10PM). I thought the program was poorly organized, because students had to watch the broadcasts during late night hours, and there was certainly a major gap between the people who produced the videos and the local facilitators. Possibly Mississippi had a similar program before online education replaced it in the 21st century.

Michael (and anyone else), what do you think about these new, growing virtual schools that rely so heavily on part-time instructors? To develop and sustain high quality education, I think a virtual school needs 25-50% of faculty to be full-time, and the remaining instructional staff should be under the supervision of the full-time faculty.

At the time my initial response was:

Samuel, personally I don’t see a problem with the reliance on part-time instructors. It has been the model that many of the state-wide institutions have used since their inception. If I look at the Michigan Virtual School for example, they only have a handful of full-time instructors but the enrollment continues to grow and the quality of the instruction doesn’t seem to be called into question. This was true of the former Illinois Virtual High School as well (prior to it ceasing to exist), and it grew in size just about every year (and could have grown more but the funding model in place did not allow for dramatic growth). They relied almost exclusively on part-time teachers.

My experience has been that the places that rely the most on full-time teachers are the cyber charter schools (i.e., full-time programs). Which makes some sense when you think about it, as their students are engaged in their online studies are greater percentage of their time because they are online all of the time. Whereas in a supplemental program the students are in a brick-and-mortar classroom for the majority of their day, and only engaged in their online studies for one or two slots in their schedule.

But this might make an interesting question to turn into its own entry in the new year.

And I did think it an interesting issue, so I wanted to explore it a bit more.  There are many virtual school teachers and administrators that read this blog, what do you all think?  Let me tease out this broader question a bit for you:

  1. Should a certain percentage of teachers be full-time in a virtual school program?
  2. Does it make a difference if that program is a supplemental or full-time program?
  3. Can the mix between full-time and part-time teachers change over time as the program becomes more established?

So dear readers, tell us what you think about this issue.


  1. Michael,

    I think full time teachers will become more important to state supplemental programs as we see more blended initiatives taking place as well as more at-risk students requiring additional just in time support. As our program continues to grow, schools are telling us that in key content areas like math, real time support would be helpful.

    I am curious to hear what others think!


    Comment by Donna Hutchison — January 5, 2010 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Donna… I’m hoping others will follow your lead. :)

    Comment by mkbnl — January 5, 2010 @ 11:53 pm | Reply

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