E-learning has dominated the education conversation for the last year and a half. That in and of itself is a sign of changing times. Virtual schools have normally only been in the news when there was a scandal to report. Obviously, virtual schools have seen an uptick in attention because of COVID-19. Because of that, it is tempting to think that once the pandemic dies down, as it is now, we will return to “normal.” However, that does not appear to be the case.
Across the country school districts are experiencing a growth in demand for online education. Yes, there are some parents who are still afraid of COVID, but it appears to be more than that. While in-person learning is still by far the best option, and the preferred option for most students and families, some did have success with online education and the desire for those types of options exceeds pre-pandemic levels.
This phenomenon shows that the perception of virtual school is changing.
Locally, Indianapolis Public Schools will offer virtual instruction next year via a partnership with charters. This is in spite of the fact that virtual options in the area have not had a good reputation, as they have previously been plagued with low performance and scandals. The fact that there will be virtual options even as in-person learning returns shows not only a change in demand from parents and students, but also signals a change in attitude among leaders and stakeholders.
But it would be a mistake to assume that the virtual schools on the rise now will look exactly like the ones we saw before. Prior to the pandemic, virtual schools didn’t have a good reputation, but that was in part due to the students that enrolled. These schools were often perceived to be the sole dominion of students who, for whatever reason, “couldn’t cut it” in an in-person setting. That stereotype was never exactly true … but there was some truth to it. This time around, we are seeing a lot of students who were successful in-person still elect virtual options.
Anecdotally speaking, when my school offered a return to in-person learning, some of our top-performing students who had always been successful while in the building still elected to remain e-learners. And most of those families made it clear that it wasn’t just because of the pandemic.
There are a lot of reasons for this. The convenience of e-learning has been a bigger selling point to families than we would have guessed. If you are a high-achieving student, the self-paced aspect has been a win. Students with behavior problems that are only pronounced in an in-person setting have found success, too.
Whatever the reason for more families choosing virtual options, it is clear that, at least for the time being, they are here to stay.