by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
The News & Observer reports that “Online charters near approval as NC education board debates student access.” And this is good news. I love seeing the creative ways that charter schools are able to approach education. While I suspect that online schools won’t ever be best for most kids, there are some students who thrive in that environment and for whom online schools are a much better fit than traditional brick and mortar schools.
But it seems that the online charter schools may have hit a snag.
At issue is whether the nonprofits operating the schools should be required to find “learning coaches” for students whose parents cannot fill that role. In virtual charter schools, students do much of their work online. The setup expects that adult learning coaches, usually parents, will work with students at home. Learning coaches are crucial, particularly in the early grades.
If these virtual charter schools are required to provide “learning coaches,” then it’s hard to see how the model works at all. (One wonders if this may not be precisely the point. The Charter School Advisory Board has been resistant to virtual charters for some time.) After all, one of the great advantages of virtual charter schools is that teachers in one place can teach students across the state, regardless of where they live. Kids in rural areas can access teachers in cities, and vice versa. There’s no need for physical proximity, which can increase the options available to kids and provide greater flexibility in exactly how courses are delivered.
But yes, some kids may not be able to attend a virtual charter. It may not work for all families. And that’s ok.
The thing about school choice – or any choice, for that matter – is that some choices are better for some people, and different choices are better for other people. For some, local district schools work well. For others, private schools are a better option. For still other families, a charter school is the best choice. Some kids need lots of structure, some need more self-directed learning, and some do best in a virtual environment. I know kids in district schools, charter schools, Spanish medium schools (kids whose parents don’t speak Spanish, by the way), Montessori schools, private religious schools, and home schools. Not all kids are the same, so not all schools should be.
And it’s not just about family finances, either. I know families whose kids are all in different kinds of schools, because those kids all have different needs. One sibling goes to the local district school while another goes to a charter. One is at a private school, while siblings are in district schools.
Most remarkably, there are even single moms who believe so strongly in homeschooling that they figure out how to home school their kids while also holding down a job to provide for the family. I have no idea how these mothers pull that off, but I’m impressed. It’s not going to work for everyone, but these moms are making choices that they believe are best for their families.
Virtual charter schools are another such option. Parent may have to figure out how they can act as “learning coaches” or how they can otherwise ensure that their kids have access to that sort of person. It’s just like parents who choose a brick and mortar charter school but have to provide their own transportation and lunch for their children. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a good option for some.
And that’s the point of school choice. By allowing lots of different options, we allow families to find what works for their kids. We know that most will continue to choose local district schools, but for those who want something different, charter schools (including virtual ones) and private schools (with opportunity scholarships) open up choices for parents and the possibility of something that will better meet their kids’ unique needs.
I hope we’re able to get over this issue about “learning coaches” for the sake of kids who could so greatly benefit from a virtual charter that’s currently not an option for them at all.