Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: Virtual schooling the right choice for some students

by Greg Clutter

The COVID-19 pandemic was the first exposure to online lesson delivery for many parents, students and even teachers themselves — but it was a far cry from a real, proven, virtual education. Families and faculty were thrown into an emergency remote teaching situation in the midst of a global pandemic with little to no time for preparation. Such emergency remote teaching is starkly different from a tested, experienced virtual learning program.

For the West Virginia Virtual Academy, through its partnership with Stride, real, proven, online learning is nothing new. In fact, Stride has been a leader among online education providers for over two decades, having served over two million students since opening their doors. The parent satisfaction rate at Stride is 80%, a number unheard of in the vast majority of school districts across the country.

According to researchers at the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) who conducted a study comprised of 4.5 million U.S. students, students at Stride affiliated schools reported lower learning loss during COVID-19 than those reported by non-Stride school students. In some cases, Stride students in these safe, consistent environments even experienced learning gains, something that was very rare during the pandemic.

The evidence clearly shows that, when led by a team of experienced and prepared professionals who have created quality programs, real, proven, virtual learning is an excellent option for some students and families. Proven online education is highly adaptable and can oftentimes better meet students where they are academically, emotionally, and socially. In addition, at first, only urban and highly-populated counties in West Virginia will have brick and mortar charter school options. With real virtual learning, families in rural areas can have a school choice option that provides an excellent education in a safe, consistent learning environment

As some have pointed out, there have been a few bad actors in the online education world. Bad actors exist in every industry. However, there are, also, clear and excellent leaders in the proven, virtual education space. In nearby Ohio, the Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA) is considered to be the gold standard as the largest online school in the state. They have a proven tracker record of compliance and success during the pandemic. The West Virginia Virtual Academy has contracted with the same provider as OHVA, Stride, to provide a similar quality education for West Virginia students.

Despite the challenges faced by teachers and families during pandemic emergency remote teaching, nearly two-thirds of parents report that they would consider a full-time proven, online public school for their child. Poll after poll continues to show that parents want these options available to them. West Virginia Virtual Academy is excited and ready to be one of those options.

Greg Clutter, a supporter of educational choice, serves on the Board of Directors of West Virginia Virtual Academy. Clutter and his family live in Morgantown and share a passion for youth leadership and education.