COVID-19 has dragged school districts kicking and screaming into the digital age. Forcing schools online is not a good thing but forcing them to learn new tricks and address the digital divide is. With that being said, there are were bound to be obvious growing pains with such massive changes. Many speculated that the forced migration would lead to a backlash against online school in general. They were right, and it didn’t take long.
Virtual schools have sprung up around the country, and wherever they are located, they have always quickly become the target of school-choice detractors. They often make easy targets. Virtual learning, by definition, requires a certain level of discipline to work well and often the kids that attend those schools are there because of their lack of it. Virtual school can and should be used to reach kids who have not been successful in the regular classroom setting, and many times it succeeds. This doesn’t always come across on paper due to the fact that they tend to have a larger number of at-risk students. It suffices to say that there are seldom apples to apples comparisons made for virtual schools, and often they are criticized for failing the same students’ traditional public schools have already failed multiple times.
But this isn’t meant to be a defense of all virtual schools. I am sure many of them are terrible. School choice is not about pretending every school or model is effective; it is about giving student and families options if the school they are in is one of those ineffective schools.
What is new during this time of e-learning is the desire to conflate x school districts’ e-learning struggles with year-round virtual school. That is just a fallacious argument.
For starters, these schools did not choose to participate in e-learning. They were forced, and they were not designed for that purpose. Nor did they have the infrastructure in place or experienced staff to serve for that purpose.
Secondly, parents and students by and large did not choose an e-learning setting. Circumstances dictated that was what they received. Also, some families don’t have the technology or the connectivity to get the most out of that setting.
So, at the end of the day, is it really shocking that students who didn’t choose an e-learning setting are struggling in schools that weren’t designed for it to begin with? No.
It’s okay that individual people have different opinions about virtual school. School choice gives you the ability to act on that preference. It would not have worked for me personally. Let’s not be silly and act like your local public school’s last minute switch to online platforms they have never used is the same as a virtual school where students have chosen to attend.