My access to online information doesn’t change based on what zip code I’m in at the moment. As long as I can log on to the internet, I can access the same information from any location. That’s the nature of the internet, right? Offering equal access to a world of opportunity, and for our purposes, educational opportunity.
By harnessing the power of the internet, any student in any internet-wired location can access any Advanced Placement course. Can study not only French, Spanish, and German, but also Mandarin, Japanese, or Latin. Can take Java Programming, Green Design & Technology, or International Business. Every single student can access a world class education.
And it’s not a pipe dream. It’s possible.
What stands in the way? The same thing that always does. Bureaucracy. Adult interests. Money.
As we’ve written before, online learning is one of the only alternatives to traditional public school available in the Evergreen State.Yet this week, the Everett Herald pointed out that even online options are often highly restricted.
Here in Washington a student can request to transfer their enrollment to any district in the state, and their state funding will follow them to the new district. Simple enough, right?
But what about the student who wants to stay in their local school for some courses or extracurricular activities and take the rest online, perhaps take a course their local school doesn’t offer?
There are several ways districts can make it easy for students to access these options. First, they can contract with an online provider to offer courses. Second, they can develop and offer their own online courses. Third, they can contract with the Digital Learning Department to offer students access to the DLD’s more than 600 a la cart course offerings.
Not only this, but districts can take advantage of resources like Washington Online (by the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges) to create their own online Running Start Program.
A student in a district that does any one of these things is in luck. But what if the district doesn’t?
In that case, you would think it simple enough to split the enrollment between the home district and a district that does offer what the student needs. But there’s the rub.
To split enrollment, the resident and non-resident district must create an inter-local agreement. And they can refuse to do so. The Herald article points this out very poignantly in the example of 12-year-old Bobbie Bouma, a young lady who wanted to take her academic courses through Washington Virtual Academy due to bullying, but also wanted to remain involved in her local school. Sadly for Bobbie, Everett refuses to play well with other districts. (Read The Herald’s full article here for more details)
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has called education an “8-track tape in an iTunes world.” While customization is possible in every other sphere of life, we restrict even the reach of the internet due to politics and bureaucracy.
It’s time for that to change. If Washington was truly committed to providing every child with access to an excellent education, we would tear down artificial barriers like zip codes—not only for online education, but for education in general. We would put student interests before the interests of well, special interests. We wouldn’t even consider reducing student services in order to increase employee benefits. We would create more opportunities for innovation through flexible school governance. The list goes on and on.
Many other states are having this realization and doing something about it. This week’s election in Wisconsin is a good sign for the education revolution since five of the six winners were staunch supporters of student-centered reforms (reforms that would be considered quite radical in Washington).
Let’s hope Washington catches on. The Herald points out a serious problem in one of the only school choices families have. If we can’t reverse the trend of adult interests (and money) trumping what’s best for students, we’re in trouble.
[Reprinted with permission from the Freedom Foundation Liberty Live blog]