In the 10 years since online schools were founded, more than 25 states have allowed parents to enroll their child in a full-time public online school. Today, over a quarter million K-12 students attend public online schools. Thousands of students have graduated from public online schools and experience great success in higher education and their careers.
As a parent with children enrolled in full-time public online schools, I am writing as a neighbor to provide Iowa parents facts as they consider enrolling their child in one of Iowa’s two new public online schools. I hope Iowa parents benefit from the perspective of a parent who has been in their shoes.
Please understand, I do not contend that public online schools are for everyone. For some families, however, it is the model of instruction that best suits their child’s learning needs. I know the parents of a gifted student who was bored in the traditional classroom and needed the self-paced flexibility that an online school permits. Similarly, I have met parents of challenged learners and students with disabilities that require instruction at a slower pace. Health issues, social issues like bullying, a bad school or teacher are all reasons parents have cited for placing their child in a full-time public online school.
For many students, learning from a state-of-the-art digital curriculum works better than textbooks and chalk boards. All children are not the same, so it is unrealistic to think a traditional neighborhood brick-and-mortar school is always the best solution for every child.
Online public schools are similar to any other public school. The curriculum is state-approved, the teachers are certified, and the online school is a program of the school district held accountable to both its school board and the state department of education. Students take the same standardized tests and must master the same material as their peers in neighborhood schools. However, public online school instruction is focused toward the student, and not the class, allowing students to make progress at their own pace.
In many states, critics are concerned about funding. They believe that public online schools mean that the money will follow the student to the school of their choice. I always want to ask, “Who do you think pays the taxes for that student’s education?” The answer is the hard-working parent who is now looking for a school that suits their child’s needs.
Open enrollment is nothing new in Iowa. Based on my experience, there is no need to fear allowing students to open enroll to a public online school. Parents will choose the school that is best for their child and some will join the hundreds of thousands of American parents who send their students to public online schools every year.
Iowa parents now have a choice in public schooling. For those who need a change, it’s nice to have an option. Public online schools are not for everyone, and if they don’t perform well, then parents, school boards and the state of Iowa can hold them accountable just like any other public school. As a parent, I know I would.
Rose Fernandez of Mukwonago, Wis., is executive director of National Parent Network for Online Learning.
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