Last year the Texas legislature created a program called the Electronic Course Pilot. The idea is to use technology to deliver a public school education directly to students in their own homes. The Texas Virtual Academy @ Southwest is the first school to be approved for the pilot program. School Administrator Nancy Trunk says the program is for grades three through six and almost all of the coursework is done online.
"They receive instruction in a way other than being in a traditional classroom, but they're still supervised by a certified teacher. We require our teachers to not only be certified, but to have experience in the classroom. And our students are accountable through the Texas Accountability System."
Students enrolled in the online school still take the TAKS test and must meet all state requirements. But taking the courses online gives families more flexibility. Lynn Reynolds has her eight-year-old son Brian in the program and says this enabled him to set his own study pace.
"The one thing as a parent this has been really wonderful. He was in a gifted and talented program here at HISD, it's one of the top schools in HISD, and I thought he was more on top of things than he really was. When we did the assessments I thought at first maybe the assessments weren't quite correct."
Reynolds says the assessment showed Brian was behind in geography but advanced in language arts. The online program allows teachers to tailor the curriculum for each student. Brian takes several music lessons and plays golf, so he says studying online gives him more time.
"When I'm online I'm able to click on it where I'm able to go to the next day and do some of those lessons. And so then the next day I don't have any lessons or I don't have as many lessons."
Every student must complete 30 hours of coursework per week, but they don't have to show up to school for anything other than the TAKS test and a final assessment exam. Critics of virtual schools say this is just a method of subsidizing home school families and draining money from traditional campuses. The Texas Virtual Academy is a state-funded public school and offers the curriculum, software and computer free of charge to students. A similar program is supposed to begin through HISD some time this year. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.