The Debate Over Virtual Schools

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 3:46 PM EST

An appeals court ruling to cut funds for a virtual K-8 school in Wisconsin has rippled through the interwebs this week, causing tears among some students and applause from one teachers' union.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Online learning is all the rage among home-schoolers these days. A Wisconsin superintendent praised the virtual school program for better serving kids with learning challenges, medical conditions, and special needs, in addition to high-performing students, students who need to move at their own pace, and students who require a more flexible schedule. Which could also read as: "Whew! Thanks for taking all these difficult kids off our hands!"

But folks at the National Education Association say a program with unlicensed teachers and no student-to-student interaction should not be draining tax money from traditional public schools.

The debate raises at least two interesting questions:

1) Are we so unhappy with current public school curriculum models that we are turning to online ones?

2) Why are so many kids—90,000 students in 18 states—leaving the bullies and heavy backpacks behind for the virtual classroom? In other words, is there anything public schools can learn from online schools to improve the experience for kids?

Funny thing is, the campaign trail these days is pretty much devoid of any education talk whatsoever. I'm sure the words "schools" and "learning" seem pretty dull compared to "surge" and "terror," but just think, if the war does go on for another 10 years, the students we're having problems teaching now will be 10 years older—and that much harder to reach.