Point of View

How virtual education could powerfully transform North Carolina

May 12, 2014 

There’s a serious school choice debate underway in our great state that will determine the educational future of children like mine who live in communities across North Carolina. Thanks to innovative public school leaders and state policymakers who believe the status quo isn’t good enough, new options in public education have emerged: public virtual schools.

I am just one of thousands of North Carolina parents who want the option to enroll my children in a new form of public school that offers a rich and rigorous curriculum, North Carolina-certified teachers, flexibility and the kind of accountability that we all should demand from every public school in the state.

One size does not fit all. This is a key principle in American K-12 public education reform and why charter schools – with their innovative approach to decision-making, scheduling, staffing, curriculum and filling in the gaps of traditional education – have grown so quickly around the country. Nationally, our education system is also being revolutionized by technology. Virtual schools, many of them charter schools, are using technology to transform and personalize learning and can improve academic performance and reduce dropout rates.

There are many gaps in K-12 public education today – gaps for students who learn at a different pace, in course availability and in the ability of an educator to teach instead of manage a traditional classroom. With state-certified teachers, actively engaged learning coaches, individualized learning programs, standards-aligned curriculum and leading digital learning resources, the proposed virtual charter school North Carolina Connections Academy will fill those gaps and bring educational success to students who, for a variety of reasons, have not thrived in a traditional classroom setting.

Here are the three major reasons why I urge the Charter School Advisory Board to recommend approval of the N.C. Connections Academy charter application to serve our state’s students and families at its meeting Tuesday:

•  North Carolina has a large student population that will benefit from this individualized educational program. Brick-and-mortar schools reach students only within their physical proximity, but a high-quality virtual school can leverage excellent state-certified teachers and curriculum to meet the needs of students anywhere in our state. Many students who live in rural communities will gain an attractive new public education alternative.

• North Carolina’s families and educators want a full-time virtual school. More than 5,100 families have reached out to learn more about North Carolina Connections Academy, and the local board has heard from many more through information sessions, social media and email correspondence.

• Online course enrollments in North Carolina have surged. Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning (2013), the well-respected annual e-learning report, indicates that North Carolina has the second-highest number of online course enrollments of any state-run supplemental course program. While we have “no full-time online schools,” the State Board of Education has approved procedures for virtual charter schools to operate. In the 2012-13 academic year, 30 states had full-time, multi-district schools that enrolled an estimated 310,000 students.

There is a large body of education research demonstrating the power of technology to transform education and help children achieve academic success by delivering personalized, student-centric learning. Virtual learning is not for every student, but a statewide virtual school will offer students an option that can enable them to achieve their academic goals.

Let’s provide more e-learning alternatives that our families throughout the state have been requesting. Our students deserve high quality options like North Carolina Connections Academy.

Bryan Setser of Durham is president of the North Carolina Connections Academy Founding Board.

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