December 15, 2010

What is the role of virtual schools in education reform?

We are pleased to see that Louisiana, which did not have a law denying virtual charters but also has not had any, has just approved the first two virtual charter schools in the state. With support from State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved two virtual schools to open in fall 2011. Louisiana Connections Academy will serve students in grades K-12 in its first year, and Louisiana Virtual Academy will serve students in grades K-10 in its first year.  The BESE also approved nine new charters (not virtual), bringing the statewide total to 101 for fall 2011.

This comes on the heels of the announcement that the Superintendent Pastorek joined four other state education chiefs in starting “Chiefs for Change.” Superintendent Pastorek said that this group seeks to “set ourselves apart and pursue a much more aggressive path toward success,” through a “cutting-edge, pushing-the-envelope way of putting children at the top of all of our decisions.” Part of their agenda is focused on pushing for school choice, including charter schools and virtual schools.

We believe that virtual education—whether in the form of a full-time online school or supplemental courses for physical school students—can play a critical role in education reform in a number of ways. Students have access to a wider variety of courses, a key benefit as budgets are cut and teaching staffs are trimmed down. The self-paced nature of online courses allows students to review material they don’t understand until they truly master the content (not just achieve a certain number of minutes in a classroom).

Louisiana Virtual School and some district programs have offered students supplemental course options to students in Louisiana, and now it looks as if there will be full-time options available to students in the near future.  Providing students with another path toward high school graduation is a terrific way to increase graduation rates that have historically been far too low.

We are likely preaching to the choir with anyone reading this blog, but do you think online options are a key component of education reform? Are there success stories in your state?

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