Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

On Virtual Schooling, a Key Question Is, ‘Who Benefits?’

July 17, 2007 1 min read
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). Perhaps we are at the embryonic stage of a change in the education arena and I am just not ready. What I need to know, though, is where classroom teachers stand in this virtual-school trend.

I am baffled about virtual schools and the real intent of this new learning format for K-9 students, presumably within their regular school day (“States Revamping Policies on Virtual Schools,” June 13, 2007). Perhaps we are at the embryonic stage of a change in the education arena and I am just not ready. What I need to know, though, is where classroom teachers stand in this virtual-school trend.

The position within this movement of classroom teachers deemed “highly qualified” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act appears nebulous at best. A combination of face-to-face and virtual schooling requires a degree of accountability to support NCLB guidelines. But the lack of teacher visibility in online schools makes me nervous about issues of accountability, access, and social justice. If teachers are out of the picture, the monitoring of content for bias, fairness, and tolerance is at risk. Similarly, opportunities for matching virtual content with face-to-face content are minimal. Should teachers abandon existing face-to-face content for the promises of virtual classes? Only the virtual decisionmaker will determine the best course of action for students in this new instructional design.

Evergreen Consulting Associates, an online-education group mentioned in your article, suggests keeping experienced teachers out of the virtual-schooling process in its annual report, since “classroom veterans rarely have the opportunity to develop these online skills on the job.” Because few preservice teachers graduate with online-teaching skills, Evergreen writes, many virtual programs “hire and train teachers with prior face-to-face teaching experience” for their virtual schools. Are we now stripping regular classrooms of teachers to go virtual, with those remaining mere consumers of virtual-course offerings?

Those states still debating virtual schools are wise to be prudent in lingering over funding and implementation. Who benefits and who is disadvantaged in this effort to put learning online for every student, even those sitting in classrooms with real, live teachers?

Sandra Plair

Lansing, Mich.

A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as On Virtual Schooling, a Key Question Is, ‘Who Benefits?’

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