Parents, beware! My lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre, has an idea. Apparently, he has become aware of virtual online charter schools and has taken the concept a step further: virtual online daycare. “Trust me, Tommy Boy, it’s the next Uber!” Clearly, Toby Dawn has no children of his own (and neither should he), but I had to admire his enthusiasm as he gave me the sales pitch. “Convenient for parents . . . flexible scheduling . . . huge cost savings . . .” As Toby jabbered on, I could not help but worry that some people might consider it a good idea. Everything else is going to the cloud, so why not kids? Of course, the idea is ludicrous, but I cannot risk anyone thinking that the online education model might fit for daycare.
First, daycare and education have many things in common, but the missions are different. A daycare can function without educational components, but most educational institutions physically care for their children. Virtual online charter schools, of course, are the exception. This does not make online schools bad, but it does make them very different from regular school settings, and parents should be fully informed of the differences. The virtual online charter school provides curriculum and educational support, but they rely wholly on parents for the care, supervision, and support of their students. Face-to-face interactions with teachers and other students occur rarely, if at all. Things like transportation, breakfasts, lunches, and many other school services are left up to parents. This simply means that parents of virtual online charter school students must bear many burdens that parents of traditional students do not face. If parents are fully aware and prepared for these eventualities, a student in a virtual online charter school can be extremely successful. Parents’ needs are only part of the equation, however.
Students’ needs, personalities, interests, and abilities must be considered too. Virtual online charter school students must effectively manage their own time and daily schedules, which is difficult for some kids. They also will miss out on some peer interaction and access to extra-curricular opportunities. For many students, this is not a concern, but learners traditionally need additional structures to be successful. As an educator, I readily admit that many students thrive in virtual online charter school programs. It is a valid educational choice for informed parents and the right children. As always, parents are the most important educator in children’s lives, so they know their children best, but success in online schools requires as much commitment as home-schooling. I am worried that many parents and students enter such programs with unrealistic expectations, unprepared for these realities.
The other concern is how many students return to their home districts after faltering online. Fortunately, when students return, the local district must still serve those children, even though the online schools keep every dollar. In other words, local school districts cannot refuse to serve any child, but charter schools can pick-and-choose. In many ways, online virtual charter schools benefit financially when students must return to their home schools. Nevertheless, certain students thrive in virtual schools, so I see the value of these programs. Just please be informed before you replace your school support system for an LCD screen.
Regarding Toby’s Virtual Online Daycare, however, I promptly kicked Mr. McIntyre out of my house. Children need people to care for them and caregivers need someone to care for. I suppose the same is true for students and educators, in most cases. But for those who do not need those structures, virtual online charter schools are legitimate options, as long as parents and students know what they are getting into.
For more of Tom Deighan’s articles, please visit www.tomdeighan.com