Friday, October 28th, 2016

Another look at the benefits of virtual schools


I received a nice phone call today thanking me for my latest article for the MacIver Institute on virtual schools and their benefits.

There are many advantages to an online school versus a traditional school. The flexible schedule allows students to work at their own pace to master a subject. If a student has a question, they can just email the teacher or participate in an online discussion. Online lectures can be replayed as often as necessary. Older students can even set their own schedules to accommodate a job and all the kids can factor in family schedules, church, community events and extra-curricular activities.

A few years ago I interviewed a hockey mom whose son was competitive enough to have a pretty intense travel schedule. Had that family been confined to the brick-and-mortar school, it was likely the child would either have had to abandon his hockey dreams or fail at school. But these schools are not merely for would-be Olympians.

For some parents, the online school is also a way to remove a child from dealing with bullying or disciplinary situations. In our own case, it’s a matter of allowing my son to attend a school without many of the distractions that seem to impede his academic progress while allowing him to work at his own pace.

Recent criticisms of virtual schools miss the point. One recent Gannett newspaper article was critical of the virtual schools because “attendance” could not be measured the same way at a virtual school as in a traditional school. Which begs the question, what is attendance at an online school?

My son was online on Labor Day learning about how to check his class work. Does that mean he was in attendance on a day when the school was technically closed? If he watches a lecture tonight for his math class, does that mean he was in attendance?

As the article points out, the schools do check participation levels. If a student is not adequately participating, the student is sent back to the traditional schools. For example, Gannett reported Waukesha Public Schools sent 92 students back to traditional schools last year.

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