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Articles on virtual education seem to be growing and popping up everywhere.  As someone who works in the virtual education world, I couldn’t be happier.  I am extremely excited for more research, proving the concepts, and in general, the future of online learning being vetting through exploration and conversation.  While I’m ecstatic to see the forward progress, I have been keeping my eyes open for one simple theme that appears to be missing from many, if not most, of the current major publications.

No one is talking to key stakeholders.

No one is talking to parents, students, educators, administrators, or others who are involved in the virtual education process–every-single-day.

Conversations about virtual education have even made appearances on HBO (Check the video here).  Was the clip funny? Yes.  Did I laugh? More than I should have.  Did this comedian, I mean news anchor, ever talk to parents, students, or educators in the virtual schools? No.  Neither have the statisticians and researchers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying or disregarding the study of data, numbers, trends, and passing rates.  They are all vital components of this conversation.  However, there is a whole different point of view available from the people who are currently doing the virtual school thing that must be considered.

Ted Kolderie in his book, Split Screen (free download), relates the process of choosing a school to the process of purchasing a car. There are many variables that come into play when buying a new vehicle, with a myriad of views on what is most important.   There are gearheads who put more value into torque and horsepower, folks who only care about name recognition, and people who choose based on gas mileage, safety, comfort, and even cup-holder placement.

Choosing a school is a similar experience.  Some people choose a school because of the focus on STEM, the elective options, or perhaps the world languages offered.  Some families choose a specific school because of the sports programs, drama and music opportunities, and student safety is always a big concern.

Ultimately, Kolderie’s point is that selecting a school can look very different depending on the folks making the decision in the best interest of their child.  While one school format could be a pro to one family, it might be a con to another.

Again, there has to be more to the story than just the numbers that are currently being told.  Are online schools perfect.  No, of course not, no school is.  Is there room for improvement?  Of course–again, read my last piece to find out my thoughts concerning online school “iterations.”  What we all should be looking for, however, are the stories of students who have been successful in multiple school formats, including virtual schools. The ones that are showcased time and again on this blog.

Let’s change the conversation to focus on what those students, families, and teachers are doing in order to replicate the learning process in the lower performing situations. In Max Eden’s blog post on the importance of talking to parents, Jay P. Greene expresses his belief that standardized tests don’t tell the whole story and that another indicator is needed before decisions are made. In this vein, let’s start genuine, down to earth, robust conversation with e-school stakeholders prior to making policy recommendations and closing online schools.

In the world of education, traditional schools, blended schools, and online schools are married.  It’s time we start figuring out how to get along, work together, and educate all these kids.

The above article is in response to a number of recent articles and reports on virtual schools that have focused solely on numbers, you can find the works by June Ahn, Ph.D.  here,  and here. As well as the CREDO report here. I also wrote an article titled, “One Fish, Two Fish, Old Data, New Data,” discussing another concern, here.

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