Right now, we’re in the middle of a grand national experiment, as the coronavirus shutters school buildings and the education of millions of children shifts online.
Over the course of my career, I’ve met more than a handful of parents who don’t understand what online education is or why it can be a good match for their student. Time and again, I am also amazed to hear how many myths there are regarding online learning.
Online education works. We know that because every day, tens of thousands of parents choose to send their kids to online public schools, rather than settling for what may be a bad fit in their only neighborhood option. For parents who don’t know much about online schools, there are three things you need to know.
1. Virtual school looks a lot like traditional school
While the way the material is presented is different, online learners share many of the experiences of their brick-and-mortar peers. Online learners still have classmates. They have teachers. They can participate in clubs like National Honors Society, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), DECA, and SkillsUSA. They have proms and graduation celebrations. And of course they get access to curriculum that is aligned with state standards and delivered by certified instructors.
As America’s schools shift to the online environment over the coming months, it may not look exactly like that. Districts scrambling to provide any educational opportunity – at all – to their students can’t just flip a switch and move everything online. But that’s the exception to how a more regular online school environment looks.
2. Parents are empowered partners in education
Parents and caregivers of students in online schools are true educational partners. They don’t take on the responsibility of educating their kid – that remains the teacher’s job – but they do have to ensure their child logs on every day and doesn’t succumb to distractions. They play a direct role in their child’s education and have an increased ability to weigh in as needed.
When it comes to traditional schools, the biggest complaint I hear from parents is that administrators and teachers don’t listen to them. Parents know their kids better than anyone and it’s frustrating when school leaders don’t value their input or feedback. With online public school at home, parents are in the mix every day.
3. Online public charter schools are free
Speaking of public schools, “How much do they cost?” was and is still the most common question parents ask me about online learning. Online learning doesn’t have to cost parents a dime. Even in cases where students don’t have their own computer, many online public schools provide students with their own laptops and tools.
Again, the current rapid transition to online schooling has had to occur under less-than-ideal circumstances. It would be a shame if we let any hiccups in that process detract from the successes that established online schools have had in maintaining high-quality instruction during this difficult time.
Right now, making sure students can finish out the school year must be our number one priority. Our close second though, should be thinking about where we go from here, paving the way for our kids’ future academic success.
Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia City Council member, is an attorney, author, education reform activist, and President of Academics, Policy and Schools at K12 Inc.