“Out-of-Control” Virtual Schools
I found this link through the Panama City Renaissance School blog: an article about the virtual school controversy in Oregon. Oregon’s virtual schools have been bogged down by regulations for years. Virtual academies in Oregon operate as charter schools; like other charters there, they have to enroll half of their students from a single district. (The state made an exception for the first virtual school, which is now the largest one in Oregon.)
A new bill would prevent existing virtual schools from expanding, or new ones from opening, for two years, until the state has decided how to regulate them — as if the current regulations weren’t enough of a hindrance. The enrollment rule makes no sense for virtual schools. The whole point of online learning is to give kids from many different places access to the virtual school. Why should half of them live in one particular district? And why does Oregon need two whole years to consider new regulations? It takes about two seconds to see that the current regulations are overly restrictive. Imagine if the state forbade traditional public schools to enroll new students for two years while it contemplated reform!
This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to shut down competition to the traditional districts. Here’s what the lobbyist for school administrators in Oregon says about it:
“We’re not going to wait until it is out of control.”
He’s on the right track. Traditional schools shouldn’t wait until the virtual schools attract all their students. Nor should they fight change with regulations. Instead, they should start offering a better education right now. Traditional schools have an advantage over virtual schools in some respects — they can provide lots of face-to-face contact and hands-on lessons, for example. They can focus on those strengths to compete with the virtual schools.
So far, Missouri’s Virtual Instruction Program hasn’t been confronted with such strong opposition. Then again, we have only one Virtual Instruction Program, administered by the state. Missouri’s online education system doesn’t provoke animosity from unions, but the downside is that we don’t have the competition between virtual schools that Oregonians do.
For more on virtual schools in Oregon, watch this cute clip of a student explaining why he likes his online school.