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Let’s get real with each other today. There has been a lot of talk about the pros and cons of school choice lately. In the spirit of keeping it real, I’ll admit that I haven’t read all the news articles. But I do know that it is creating a divide between teachers in public schools and teachers in public charter schools. In a world that it not one-size-fits-all, why do we feel like we must fit students into a one-size-fits-all school setting?

Teaching in a virtual school is a different ballgame than teaching in a typical public school. My school is a public charter school that also happens to be a virtual school. While there are some vast differences, there are some big similarities! I think it’s important to paint the right picture and include those too.

Students are the reason we teach. We are here to teach them to how to learn and to help encourage them to grow into amazing adults. The students that we have in our virtual schools are the same students that you see in typical public schools. Most of the time they are exactly the same students that were in a typical public school but left that school for a variety of reasons to come to our virtual public charter school.

Teachers are essential to any school – who would teach the students, if not for the teachers? What was true about students leaving their typical public school to come to our virtual public charter school is the same for teachers. Most of our teachers taught in a typical public school or private school before coming to our virtual public charter school for a variety of reasons. I can only speak for myself, but I left because I needed an option where I could still be a mom to my own children while continuing to follow my passion of teaching math. This option allows me to do that.

Curriculum should be aligned to state standards. More than just curriculum alignment, though, is rigor. Rigor in curriculum is the key to advancing learners from accepting new information to analyzing and researching new information. In my own experience of teaching in public schools and a virtual public charter school, there is a big difference out there in curriculum alignment and rigor. In some schools, the curriculum is aligned well to state standards; in others, the teachers are asked to come up with their own material to align to state standards because of a budget shortfall. (Because teachers are magicians, too, right?) In my particular virtual school, our rigor is high. These are not easy-peasy courses to skim through. These are rigorous and challenging courses that are aligned well to my state’s standards. I can’t say that about other schools that I’ve taught at.

Learning happens in both types of schools. This is where I think that public debate about School Choice is losing its focus. Our students are not all the same, with the same aspirations, the same learning styles, and the same needs. Since that is the case, why do people assume that only one type of school will work for all students? Yes, I am heavily generalizing, but think about it: Not all students flourish in a typical public school, and not all students flourish in a virtual school.

Ultimately, there are more similarities than differences between a typical public school and a virtual charter school. Students go to school where their parents have chosen the send them, they are taught by teachers, curriculum is used to teach them, and they learn. The only outcome I see out of a continued School Choice public debate is further division between types of schools. For the sake of our students and future adult citizens, let’s stop arguing about why School Choice is good or bad. Let’s realize that more options means more opportunities for our students to each receive the best education possible.

About The Author

Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson is the middle school and high school principal at Texas Online Preparatory School (TOPS). Prior to joining TOPS, Elizabeth taught 8th grade math and was a Lead Master Teacher at Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA). Previously, Elizabeth taught math in Arizona and Indiana for 4.5 years.  She became a business owner and mother before ultimately realizing that teaching was her passion.  Elizabeth graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in economics.  In 2009, she earned a second bachelor’s degree, this one in secondary math education. In 2014, she received a master of science in educational leadership from Ball State University. Elizabeth lives in Mesa, Arizona, with her husband and enjoys family time spent with their combined eight children. Elizabeth loves taking photos, math, adventures, learning, and spending time outdoors with her family.

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