Colorado Virtual Academy: A Parent’s Perspective

As a parent, learning coach and mentor of 2 children currently enrolled in Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) and 1 2011 graduate of COVA, I find the profuse amount of negative and insulting articles written by reporters with no clear understanding of the online school model to be a malicious attack on online schools and parent choice in education. I am offended at the demeaning and one-sided erroneous and unrelenting battering’s on online schools. The media has portrayed and painted an unfair picture of online schools in a negative and misleading manner.

Our online school, Colorado Virtual Academy, is serving my children well. My children learn from a home base with my support as learning coach/mentor.  We are assigned highly qualified licensed Colorado teachers who are responsible for my student’s academic growth.  COVA provides all of the books and materials to make this kind of education possible. We use the K12 core knowledge curriculum and we have access to quality online learning opportunities.  In addition to the rich academic programs, COVA also provides opportunities for shared learning and socializing- both online and in person.  Here’s a visual of what our virtual school looks like.

Graduation Rate

The constant badgering the media has given to COVA’s graduation rate takes away from the students who are engaged and working hard throughout the school year.  COVA serves a diverse group of students from the academically advanced to those who struggle.  COVA serves students who are credit deficient, students who are behind grade level, and students who are looking for a better option after their public B&M school failed them.  COVA serves students with special needs and students with medical challenges.  COVA serves students who are over 18 years old who may feel uncomfortable in the traditional physical school setting.

The students that COVA serves who are engaged and supported by a learning coach/mentor are the students who are most likely to succeed.  These are the students who have earned membership into COVA’s National Honor Society and earned honor roll.  They are the students who are ‘now’ engaged in learning after leaving the traditional public school where they didn’t fit.  The students who dropped out of high school and are looking for a second chance are some of the students COVA is serving and helping to succeed.

Logically our graduation rate is a representation of the students we serve. Our demographics continue to change as the popularity of online schools continues to rise. COVA provides a valuable public school option to a diverse group of students; our statistics will continue to depict the student population. That’s not to say that we will not see improvement in the graduation rate, but rather to say that it is dependent on the students we enroll. To go one step further, if we look at the students who enrolled in COVA as a 9th grader, we would see a 100% graduation rate.  In all of the media coverage, it is unfortunate that there is no mention of the graduates who were accepted into leading universities and colleges.

Student-Teacher Ratio

Student teacher ratio in an online school is different from a B & M school because the teachers are not physically present in the classroom teaching 5 days out of the week.  Now this does NOT mean that teachers in an online model should be given 2 or 3 times as many students.  Online teachers still assume the same responsibilities as any B & M teacher from grading papers, to preparing lesson materials, to assisting students with their individual work.  In addition, online teachers answer a lot of individual e-mails and make hundreds of phone calls within a school year. In an online school like COVA, the curriculum is provided, so there is much less lesson planning as compared to that of a B & M school teacher.  And as far as classroom management, no, the online teacher does not have to deal with the daily classroom disruptions which take away from student learning.  However, this lack of classroom time is made up in the availability of the teacher to the students.  The online teacher also has a unique support system starting with the learning coach/mentor who partners with the teacher from kindergarten throughout high school.  In COVA, the MS and HS teachers are also supported by an advisor and a counselor, and hopefully this support system will extend to the elementary school since it has proven to be very beneficial for teachers and families.

The 2 things that effect student learning are student engagement and teacher quality.  At COVA we have the best and most valued teachers!  Combining a committed and engaged student with a passionate and outstanding COVA teacher unmistakably equals student success. COVA teachers are an amazing group of teachers who go above and beyond in providing the best learning experience for students.  They are the most important part in determining student success.

Count Day

Count Day is something that needs to change in Colorado.  We are funding schools on a single count day and it’s not working.  I think that Tom Vander Ark makes some great arguments here and here on funding.

Assessments

We base so much of student achievement on one annual state standardized test which cannot possibly show true student achievement.   We need to change how we measure student success and consider measurement tools that more accurately measure how students are succeeding. Here’s a great post discussing the standardized testing debate.

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Colorado Virtual Academy is the public online school that I chose to educate my children.  Online schools are a viable option for students, and that’s a fact; yet over and over again the media continually depicts this distorted and inaccurate picture of a place that humiliates our school, our teachers, our students, and our families.

I’ve had enough.

Just like any public school, we can and should always be looking for ways to improve and do better.  ALL public schools should always be striving to improve.  Online schools in Colorado have been around for over 10 years and we are figuring out what’s working and what’s not working.  But let me be very clear, ONLINE SCHOOLS WORK, and my 3 children and the thousands of children around the nation who school online are testament to that fact. The focus needs to be on implementing policy to help all public schools move forward and advance so we stay competitive with other countries.  We still have to defend what works, yet we should be embracing innovation in education and putting our energy into improving and moving education forward.  At the rate we are going we will be so behind other countries in educating our children that we will be doing more harm than good to our future and to our children.

Education is the beginning, and if we truly want to be the change that we would like to see in the world, we must embrace new forms of education technology.  Everything has room for improvement, but until we are allowed to grow into, and fill our niche, we won’t be able to help children learn and succeed, which is what it’s all about, right?

Disclosure:

1-    Please read About Me

2-    Since I am a COVA parent, I have worked with COVA teachers, and it is evident that I have worked with and known some of the teachers responding to the media portraying COVA.

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Comments

  1. Great responses to the criticisms we so often see. Bricks and mortar clearly don’t work well for everyone. I’m happy to live in a state where there are options such as COVA.

  2. It is important that there are educational choices “outside the box.” Traditional schools are not the best option for every student. Thank you for a very thoughtful article.

  3. As a former California Virtual Academy parent, I absolutely agree with you. My daughter took her classes through CAVA for one year, and it was a wonderful experience. Challenging, absolutely, and better than what the neighborhood school had to offer by far. The only reason we left was to try out the charter school that replaced the neighborhood school this year. We’ll gladly go back if things don’t work out with the local school ever again.

    • It’s good to hear that you have options like charter schools in California. Hope your children are having a wonderful learning experience this year. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Great article, Lori, and well said. All children do not learn the same way yet we continue to try and make them fit into a one-size-fits-all system. I think we will see more and more educational alternatives. We’ve done many types of schooling with our kids and have not yet ruled out this one. Right now, the biggest reason my kids still want to be in public school is for the music programs (and the concurrent college/high school degree program). If I could figure out a way to have the group (band/orchestra/choir/marching band) experience for them, they might be ready to change.

    • Marie, there are many online schools that participate in concurrent enrollment programs and online students can participate in after school programs offered by a public school. That’s assuming the online program doesn’t offer that activity and the school my charge for the activity. Love your optimism, I too hope that we continue to see more educational alternatives because what you say is spot on, all chidren do not learn the same way!

  5. Lori, terrific points and balanced presentation. I agree about the fact that funding based on counts needs to change in Colorado.

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