Don’t Politicize Virtual Education

We live in an era where huge transactions take place from one corner of the globe to the other in the blink of an eye. The world is more interconnected than ever before and communication is no longer limited by geography.

Ours is a world that demands technological literacy and global interaction. As an example, one of the world’s largest universities, the University of Phoenix — an accredited online institution — boasts a total enrollment exceeding 400,000 students. Yet, despite its continued growth and that of other virtual learning institutions across the country, when it comes to K-12 education, our public schools have lagged behind educational institutions in the private sector in expanding virtual learning.

Sadly, some critics, including teachers’ unions, have been reluctant to embrace all forms of educational reform including charter schools, merit pay, school choice and virtual education.
Similarly, some want to deny parents choice when it comes to virtual education. Thankfully, there are more who disagree; like the countless parents of virtual-school students who this year rallied in Oregon’s state Capitol to advocate for their children’s right to have virtual-school options.

To that end, the Florida Legislature just passed a bill that highlights the need to expand virtual school choice. And it is school choice that sets Miami-Dade County Public Schools apart from countless school districts, not only across the state, but across the nation.

It is because of this that we must not allow critics of virtual education to limit or deny choice for students and parents across our state.

Expanding the use of virtual education in our school district would allow us to focus more on remediation strategies for students who have fallen behind in bricks and mortar classrooms, while those who are more academically advanced can participate in virtual classes. In a time of increased budget cuts to education, many schools across the state are reducing or eliminating elective courses. Online education offers students the opportunity to take a wide range of elective courses and Advanced Placement classes, which may be lacking or simply unavailable altogether in their schools.

But the benefits of virtual education are not limited to the realm of curriculum and instruction. Virtual education can also save dollars.

At a time when our country is facing one of the worst economic downturns in recent history, it is paramount that we maximize efficiency wherever possible in order to maintain essential services. When it comes to virtual education, efficiencies can be generated through its expansion in our public schools, as utilizing this technology reduces costs associated with the traditional classroom.

However, despite the multiple benefits of virtual education and parental choice, some critics have gone as far as alleging that this educational model is nothing but a method for the “outsourcing” of teachers. The reality is that fears of teacher “outsourcing” are unfounded and a diversion from the real issue at hand which is student and parent choice when it comes to virtual education.

Realistically speaking, the odds of “outsourcing” our public education system, as some have claimed the legislation intends to do, are slim to none. Embracing virtual education and new technologies in our classrooms is about enabling our children to learn through the use of 21st century resources.

It is unfortunate that when it comes to the modernization of our educational program offerings, some choose to politicize the issue. The opportunities presented by virtual education are invaluable for citizens of the new millennium, and we, as their educators, have a duty to equip them with the tools necessary to seize those opportunities. Having a wide array of choices in education has never been a bad thing. If anything, it promotes competition and thus creates better options for both parents and students — something we should all support.

Renier Diaz de la Portilla is a member of the Miami-Dade School Board.

THE MIAMI HERALD

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