by Larry T. Robinson
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
(Larry T. Robinson is an evangelist for the transcendental matrimony of education + technology. His ED+TECH column is designed to create a forum that inspires insightful discussion regarding this pervasive topic.)
Virtual schools are becoming a very popular and cost-effective choice for many school districts. This popularity has been fueled by those participating districts' attempt to reach a broader pool of viable students and create new educational options for students that traditional school models do not offer.
Typically, the traditional school models consist of spending approximately seven hours inside the building(s) for five days a week learning various subjects evenly divided between five to eight classes. The aforementioned school districts believe that should no longer be the only effective option. Because of this growth, many for-profit corporations have been created to provide these virtual services and in many cases create, in essence, virtual charter schools.
As with any "new" innovation, there will be supporters as well as detractors. In this particular situation, K12 Inc., the largest private education management organization in the United States, has come under fire because of the report published by the National Education Policy Committee (http://goo.gl/0ibjK). The report shines a light on the poor performance of virtual schools, particularly K12's, by using federal and state data. The report provides insight into the amount of public funds used by the company at each school level.
The combination of tax dollars expended and the overall weak results in student performance have provided the critics of virtual schools with some tangible ammunition, to curtail their growth. In Tennessee, state Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga) is shouting from the top of Lookout Mountain that Tennessee is making a mistake by using these organizations to educate. Becoming increasingly known as an outspoken critic of virtual schools, Berke has asked State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to perform a complete review of the operations and the overall effectiveness of the for-profit education entities (story link: http://goo.gl/i2wqK).
As an education stakeholder (anyone with a vested interest in the education of our nation's students), I hope you review all the related and relevant articles on this situation through the lens of "doing what is best for the students!"
Let's be clear, Sen. Berke and other elected officials are doing their job when they insure that public resources are used in the most effective manner. However, as it relates to educating the masses, there is more than one way to education enrichment. We must realize that magic bullets and panaceas do not exist.
Although our current system works for a certain set of students, in some cases, over 50 percent of the students are not getting the enrichment they need. Therefore, they are disproportionately a burden to our system because as adults, they are not adequately equipped to provide for themselves and/or their families.
If we provide effective enrichment options, maybe we can raise the literacy rate in our communities. And, as always, we should keep "the most important thing" as "the most important thing." We should also trust that as long as our priorities are in order, the results will be to our benefit!