Don't deny access to virtual public schools

You don't stop an airline in flight to gauge cabin pressure. You don't stop an assembly line to monitor its functions. You don't stop jogging to measure your heart rate. Likewise, there's no need to shut down virtual public schools to decide how to regulate them.

Yet that's exactly what the Oregon State Senate proposes to do. Senate Bill 767, if enacted as now written, would place a moratorium on the expansion of existing virtual public schools and the creation of new virtual public schools. It would also deny the renewal of charters for virtual public schools operating under the oversight of the Oregon Board of Education, effectively forcing their closure before the 2010-2011 school year.

In short, it is a backdoor attempt to shut down schools and this valuable public school option. As the Register Guard editorial board stated earlier this year, "Shutting down virtual schools in their current incarnation would inflict an injustice upon the 4,000 or so students enrolled in them." (Adapt to virtual schools," April 8). Parents, kids and teachers involved in virtual public schools couldn't agree more.

Every year, hundreds of new and experienced teachers like me choose online schools as their preferred method of teaching. They seek the opportunity because they know online learning works. They appreciate that it is especially helpful in preparing students for the demands of tomorrow's workplace, including self-directed learning, time management, personal responsibility and technology literacy. Many teachers say they have better relationships with students and parents in virtual academies than they experienced in traditional, brick-and-mortar schools.

Many educators and policymakers are not aware of the basics of how online learning programs work. They don't understand online curricula or know how online learning takes place. This lack of information results in numerous misconceptions about online learning. It's not surprising. Nearly every legislator's view of public education is colored by their own experience in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Virtual public schools are a completely new and different model. It's not for everybody, but it's an option that is incredibly valuable to many.

For children in school now, often called the Millennial Generation, computers and technology are integral parts of their daily lives. Using computers, the Internet, e-mail and texting is how they seek and find information and communicate with each other. It naturally follows that they expect their learning experiences to be technology-based. At the same time, an important part of our curriculum is exposing children to a world beyond the computer: life sciences, art, music and physical education just to name a few examples. Contrary to assertions by virtual public school opponents, most children will spend only about 20-25 percent of their time in front of a computer. Virtual public school teachers understand that learning requires engaging the outside world, not just the inside of a classroom — real or virtual.

Many legislators and virtual public school opponents confuse online education with home-schooling. Other than the fact that both take place in a home environment, there is no comparison between the two.

Homeschool children operate outside the oversight of the public school system. Parents develop their own curriculum, kids don't have state-certified instructors and the quality of the education is not subject to state standards and accountability.

Virtual public schools, however, operate with all of the same requirements as public charter schools. All of our teachers are state-certified and based in Oregon, the online and written curriculum is provided by professionals that develop robust, age-appropriate learning materials, and all of our students are required to take the same state tests as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. In short, it is a public education without the classroom.

Oregon lawmakers should have a thorough understanding of virtual public schools, how they operate and the benefits they offer students, parents and teachers before deciding to shut down existing schools.

A good orator doesn't stop midsentence to check his notes. He has learned his speech and knows the words. Oregon's lawmakers need to learn about virtual public schools. I think they'll find that a moratorium designed to shut down existing schools would, indeed, "inflict an injustice" on those families who depend on this public school option.

Stacy Croft is an Oregon, state-certified teacher and lead instructor at the Oregon Virtual Academy. She has taught in virtual public schools for three years.

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