Teachers unions and parents in many states have been butting heads for the last several months over the growing popularity of online schools. Commonly known as “virtual schools,” these programs combine the benefits of parent-led home-schooling with state-subsidized instruction by certified teachers. Students download assignments and communicate intermittently with teachers on the internet or over the phone, but their day-to-day reading, arithmetic, and other work is supervised and directed by their parents.
The approach enjoys its most enthusiastic support in geographically dispersed rural areas, because students can enroll in classes that their local schools might not have the resources to support. Another advantage is that students can move at their own pace. Says one parent of two virtual schoolers, “That’s what I love most about this curriculum. There’s no reason for [my daughter] to practice counting if she can already add.”
Prompted by the concerns of teachers unions, however, legislators in states like Wisconsin had sought to cut the public funding for these programs. Critics like Wisconsin Senator John Lehman allege that virtual schools amount to little more than publicly subsidized home-schooling, and charge that they divert badly needed money from school districts to businesses he suspects of “corporate profiteering.”
Whether it’s profiteering or not, state lawmakers recently came to a compromise on the issue after an impassioned plea from virtual school advocates. In exchange for maintaining the current levels of funding, parents agreed to abide by greater government oversight.