Discussions about school choice can quickly turn into heated debates about the merits of charter schools and vouchers. But charter schools and vouchers are just two facets of school choice; in fact, the ever growing field of reimagining what education can look like has moved beyond brick and mortar options to include virtual public schools. Students who are enrolled in virtual public schools can take all or part of their courses online, a concept which has opened doors for kids who have not been successful with the structure of a traditional public school or who just need something different.
Significant state budget cuts in 2010 have led to an overall decline in online learning options and enrollment for Missouri students. Currently, virtual public school is only an option for “medically fragile” students and families who can afford to enroll in a private virtual school option although in some instances there are a very limited number of school districts that offer online course options.
CEAM recently partnered with Connections Academy, a virtual public school provider, to host a Parent Academy with a group of parents and teachers who are advocating to expand virtual public school options in Missouri. At the session, we met the parents of Robin, a middle-school student living in Columbia, Missouri. Robin has Aspbergers syndrome, making social and classroom situations very challenging for her. Robin and her parents moved to Columbia a year ago from Oregon, where Robin was a full-time virtual public school student. Robin excelled in the virtual school environment in Oregon, so it was a great disappointment to her and her parents when they moved to Missouri and found out that virtual public schools were not able to operate in Missouri as they are in Oregon. Robin and her family were given the option to pay tuition but it was not affordable for them. Since the move to Missouri, Robin spent several months in her local public school but her grades slipped and the staff was not equipped to deal with the behavioral and learning difficulties of students like Robin. Robin is currently being homeschooled, but her family is hopeful that virtual education might be an option for her again. We know there are other kids like Robin out there.
Robin’s story is an important reminder that if we want a system in which all children can be successful, we need to provide a variety of quality options to accommodate the fact that all kids learn differently. Virtual schools must be one of these quality options.
Quality education options are vital.
Virtual education works.
Virtual Education is a 21st Century Extension of Traditional Public School.
Missouri is behind when it comes to providing this valuable option to our children.
(1) United States Department of Education. (2010). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf
(2) Evergreen Education Group and iNACOL. (2012). Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning. Retrieved from www.inacol.org
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