Virtual Education

My Mom sent me a link to an interesting article in the Washington Post about a company that is partnering with local school systems to set up online learning for kids who don't want the bricks and mortar experience.  There's a lot of info to digest there (graduation rates, varying experiences around the country, etc.) but to me what's of particular note is that while the classes are part of one county or municipality's offerings students from anywhere in the state can be enrolled.  The company appears to target systems from impoverished areas because they get more state money per pupil than if they partnered with more affluent systems.  From the article:

The Virginia venture was a partnership between the traditional schools of Carroll County — a rural county bordering North Carolina — and K12. Children who enrolled in the Virtual Virginia Academy were counted as Carroll County students no matter where they lived.

That was no accident.

State aid varies by school district and follows a formula based on poverty, among other factors. Affluent Fairfax County receives $2,716 per pupil from Richmond, whereas relatively poor Carroll County receives $5,421, according to the state Education Department.

This year, 66 Fairfax students are enrolled in the virtual school. Richmond is paying the virtual school twice as much for those students as it would if they attended neighborhood schools in their own county.

“Clearly, it’s not a logical or equitable system,” said state Sen. George L. Barker (D-Fairfax). “It’s a horrible deal for taxpayers.”

I'm a big believer in modernizing our education system to take advantage of what technology has to offer, and I think anything we can do to shake things up and get people serious about education reform is a good thing, but I think we need to think long and hard about the appropriate role of businesses in delivering that reform.  As a teacher once pointed out to me a business can "fire" a difficult client, but schools don't have that luxury except in the most extreme circumstances.  Education, much like health care, isn't a normal industry.  The consequences of failure are much more dire than they are in the real estate, retail, restaurant, etc. industries and so we have to be very careful to manage the role of private enterprise in delivering those services. I think we've all seen how imperfect our current system is and I think we can all agree there's vast room for improvement, but there's no guarantee that companies like K12 will succeed where public schools have failed and we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn't monitor them closely.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I think the single most effective thing we can do to reform our educational system is to fix the broken homes that are feeding broken kids into the schools.  If a child doesn't have someone at home holding them accountable and stressing the value of education then the odds are pretty good that the kid will have negligible success at school.  There just isn't an app for that.

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