The number of students enrolled in virtual schools — institutions that teach courses online — is growing rapidly. In 2007, state lawmakers created the Texas Virtual Schools Network, accountable to the Texas Education Agency. It approves virtual courses and evaluates the schools under state accountability measures.
James Golson is an education policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He says there is potential for enhancing students’ education experience.
“I think there’s some trepidation there that maybe this will be used as a means to replace traditional education and that’s the case at all. This is virtual learning and blended learning in classrooms — bringing technologies in traditional classroom settings — all should be used as tools to augment the learning experience.”
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, says online instruction benefits students catching up on credit toward graduation:
“It’s not bad when it comes to providing a course that maybe a school district can’t provide on its own. There are some interactive programs that are fantastic, but it’s not a complete education. It’s merely a supplement to a complete education. I am hoping that the legislature doesn’t pass it as, ‘Oh, well you can take your whole high school on virtual.”
She says while technology is providing classroom teachers with an additional tool for students.
“People think that they can do all of their high school training online. No, they can’t. Because very often online, you’re getting the basic components of a course, but that’s about it.”
A study released last week by Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit public education advocacy organization, says online classes may lower student performance and success. CEO David Anthony says some 6,000 students in Texas participate exclusively in virtual education, and many take part in blended instruction.
“They’re enrolled in a traditional public or charter school, and we really don’t have a problem with the blended models that show that those students perform at or above traditional education. I think virtual education has a future in the state of Texas and across this country. I just think that we have to make sure that the accountability and transparency infrastructure is in place as we move forward.”
The Senate Education Committee is expected to make recommendations when the legislature resumes next year on expanding access and funding to virtual education.