With the future of education up for debate in America, policymakers need to consider the full spectrum of options available to expand parental choice and improve the quality of our children’s learning experience.
In addition to expanding school choice programs and investing in brick-and-mortar charter schools, policymakers also need to consider the role that virtual education can play in creating a better-functioning system.
Unfortunately, instead of fostering the debate, many in the educational establishment and media are cherry-picking statistics and figures to obfuscate the vast potential virtual education holds.No two children are alike in the way they grow and interact, but for far too long we’ve focused on creating a one-size-fits-all public education system - expecting all children to learn in the same fashion. For most of modern history, our standardized education system seemed like the best - and only - option available to families and school districts alike, but the digital revolution has created new opportunities for children to attend schools that fit their unique learning styles.
“Virtual education” is an umbrella term that describes all forms of instruction that take place at least partially online (as opposed to face-to-face, in a brick-and-mortar classroom). The flexibility of virtual education allows a multitude of students - including those at traditional public and private schools, those in special education or subject-intensive programs, and those homeschooled - to take advantage of online programs tailored to their interests and needs.
[sharequote align="center"]Virtual education can reach children in ways that brick-and-mortar schools simply cannot.[/sharequote]
With many of the physical limitations of face-to-face instruction removed, virtual education can reach children in ways that brick-and-mortar schools simply cannot. It also reaches children who wouldn’t feel safe or comfortable - whether due to a disability or threats of violence and bullying - in a traditional school.
But investing in virtual education in no way means phasing out the traditional public school model that has served and continues to serve millions of children well. Rather, online programs complement brick-and-mortar schools through “blended learning,” serving students who are better suited to learn outside a traditional classroom, and creating additional time and resources for teachers.
When virtual instruction is incorporated into a lesson plan, teachers gain free time to help students one-on-one and in small groups. These programs can also benefit gifted students, allowing them to earn college credit through Advanced Placement courses even if their school district doesn’t offer those courses.Critics like to deem cyber schools “failures” by measuring their students’ test scores against those of brick-and-mortar schools, but this apples-and-oranges comparison is simply misleading.
Online schools are often designed to attract the “square pegs” of the public education system - students who have faced academic or disciplinary problems in traditional schools, and those with special needs or other social and learning differences. These students can thrive in virtual classrooms tailored to their needs, but it’s not reasonable to expect their academic success to be adequately reflected in tests designed to evaluate the conventional student.
A look beyond the numbers that interest groups highlight reveals that virtual schools can and do play a significant role in elevating the quality of the public school system as a whole by creating more options for parents and students. Virtual education isn’t the best option for every student, but for some families, it’s the key that unlocks their child’s potential. As we debate the future of education in America, our focus should be on expanding horizons for as many children as possible, not trying to “improve” the status quo.
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