The Debate Over Virtual Schools

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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.

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.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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