Tennessee offers resident students the opportunity to take online public school courses for free; indeed they can get their entire education via the internet. Below is a list of no-cost virtual schools currently serving elementary and high school students in Tennessee. To qualify for the list, schools must meet the following qualifications: classes must be available completely online, they must offer services to Tennessee residents, and they must be funded by the government.
Tennessee Virtual Academy
The Tennessee Virtual Academy is for students who are in kindergarten through eighth grade. The tuition-free school offers courses in six core subjects and is specifically geared toward students with "minds that might wander when traditional classes are too slow" as well as "minds that get lost in the shuffle, (and) minds that need a little more time," according to the academy's website.
Additionally, the school notes that its program features:
- State-certified teachers, who are available online and by phone
- Individualized curriculum, which covers both the core subject areas and electives
- Online planning and assessment tools, resources, and hands-on materials ranging from textbooks to microscopes, from rocks and dirt to illustrated classic children's stories.
- A supportive school community, which organizes fun and informative monthly activities where parents, students, and staff share their successes, difficulties, and helpful hints.
K12, which as the name implies is for kindergarten through 12-grade students, is in many ways like a brick-and-mortar school, in that it:
- Does not charge tuition
- Uses state-certified or -licensed teachers
- Follows Tennessee state education requirements for standards and assessments
- Results in a high school diploma upon completion
But, K12 notes that it differs from traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms in that:
- Students receive individualized education and personalized one-to-one support.
- Classes do not take place in a building but rather at home, on the road, or wherever an internet connection can be found.
- Parents and students communicate with their teacher via online classrooms, email, and phone, (but also sometimes in person).
K12 is a full-time program that follows the traditional school-year calendar. "You can expect that your child will spend 5 to 6 hours per day on coursework and homework," the virtual program says on its website. "But students are not always in front of a computer - they also work on offline activities, worksheets, and projects as part of the school day."
Tennessee Online Public School (TOPS)
Founded in 2012, Tennessee Online Public School is part of the Bristol, Tennessee City Schools system and is a statewide public virtual school serving Tennessee students in grades nine to 12. TOPS notes that it is accredited by AdvancED and uses Google Apps for Education to provide students with cloud-based services and email as well as Canvas, an open-access learning website that offers courses in a variety of areas. "Families do not pay tuition for a student to attend an online public school," TOPS notes, but adds: "Common household items and office supplies like printer ink and paper are not provided."
The Tennessee Department of Education promotes online schooling and notes that parents can enroll their children in online virtual schools that are not based in Tennessee. However, parents need to ensure that the school has a "legitimate accreditation status" and provide evidence to the local school district that their child is enrolled in an accredited online school. The school must be accredited by one of the following regional accrediting agencies:
- SACS CASI - Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement
- NCA CASI - North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement.
- NWAC - Northwest Accreditation Commission
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
- MSCES - Middle States Commission on Elementary Schools
- MSCSS - Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and affiliates (e.g., SAIS)
- National Council of Private School Accreditation (NCPSA)
Note that many online schools do charge hefty fees, but there are just as many virtual schools that are free to public school students. If you find a virtual out-of-state school that sparks your interest, be sure to check for potential costs by typing "tuition and fees" in the school website's search bar. Then, fire up your PC or Mac and start learning online - for free.