The Kammann family received the letter in June. Just weeks after their daughter Sophia completed her first year in Virginia Virtual Academy as a sixth grader, Carroll County Public School District suddenly announced they would not be continuing their partnership with the online charter. “Now we’re one of 400 families left trying to find a comparable virtual option in the form of private school, and, from my research, it will cost anywhere from three to eight thousand dollars to get the same quality education and services,” Sophia’s mother Andrea explains.
Sadly, Sophia’s story is one heard over and over again among thousands of families, not just in Virginia but across the country. Throughout the past year in particular, several states have scaled down or completely closed their virtual charter schools, nipping in the bud exciting new educational innovations made possible by the Internet. New Jersey’s Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, for example, withdrew approval for two virtual schools to open up in the Garden State this year. Tennessee passed a law capping virtual school enrollment to 1,500 students. Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is currently considering targeted cuts to virtual schools, despite the fact that they only receive 81 percent of the per pupil funding brick-and-mortar public schools do.
Why are states starting to push back against online learning? All four mentioned above cited virtual schools’ subpar performance on standardized tests compared to brick-and-mortar public schools as a justification for their new roadblocks to online education. But, do virtual schools provide such a poor education on the individual level? Andrea Kammann doesn’t think so.
“Our experience academically was terrific,” Sophia’s mom recalls. “Virtual learning is not for every student, but my daughter managed to create her own schedule, advance her online technical skills, and do well.” In fact, Sophia made the honor roll while maintaining a busy schedule in competitive figure skating. “Virginia Virtual Academy under the K12 umbrella afforded us the flexibility to work while traveling for competitions.”
Of course, not every student is like Sophia. Many struggle transitioning from a physical classroom setting to a virtual one. However, that may not be a sign of virtual schools’ poor performance so much as it is for brick-and-mortar schools. After all, many parents transfer their child to a virtual school precisely because they’re unsatisfied with their public school’s performance. As such, it should come as no surprise that so many students underperform on standardized tests with a one-size-fits-all standard for proficiency.
Granted, this should not give virtual schools a free pass. Performance evaluations must absolutely be required of all public schools to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are being put to good use. But instead of jumping to conclusions about virtual schools categorically being factories of failure, states should look to adopt more accurate measures of academic achievement to better gauge virtual schools’ performance.