Clash of Cultures


Article in a recent edition of Wyoming’s titled Virtual School Hits Obstacles tells of the efforts of a local school district to open a ‘virtual elementary school’.

It’s an intriquing tale involving a commercial company who have developed the curriculum materials, the district that is promoting the use and the department of education who are opposing it. There is the predictable tug-of-war over students, with the district claiming they’re targetting home schoolers, and the department saying they can’t support the “poaching” of students from other districts.

Within the article itself however, two quotes made me think about where we’re at in NZ in the development of virtual schooling:

Defending the intention of the virtual school, a local principal is quoted as saying:

“We felt there was a real large number of students, whether they were home-school based or students in families that had mobility issues, that needed to have a consistent and high-quality education, and we wanted to provide that for them.”

This sounds a very plausible reason for starting such a school – similar focus on quality and opportunity that underpins the intentions of the efforts here in NZ. My comment would be, while these are laudable goals, the next move must surely be to provide evidence to support the “feelings” that are expressed here. For the promise of virtual schooling to be realised we’ve got to move past what we think is a good idea and begin gathering hard data to support the notion that students are receiving a better education and better educational opportunities as a result.

And on the matter of supporting the virtual school into the future, an official from the department is quoted as saying:

“For the school to continue in future years, the Legislature will have to pass a law allowing the Department of Education to fund virtual schools, and the department will have to write rules on how these schools are to be run.”

Here’s the real rub – the “rules” that govern how our existing (face to face) schools operate were developed in an era before virtual schooling was even conceived of. In New Zealand the regulations around how schools receive funding for students, and how staffing entitlements are worked out are all premised on the notion of schools as physical places of instruction, with students in classes taking courses in full year programmes etc. In my experience, any attempts so far to change or adapt these “rules” have been reactive, and approach virtual learning as problematic, rather than taking a more ‘green fields’ approach that truly tries to align a new set of ‘rules’ that will encourage and support the aspirations of virtual schooling as articulated in the previous quote. Let’s hope that is the approach they’ll take in Wyoming?

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