A virtual school would give students in rural and low-performing schools access to honors, enrichment and remediation courses, improving achievement and graduation rates at a lower cost than traditional classroom instruction, according to a report by the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy.
Virtual schools offer other advantages over bricks-and-mortar schools. For instance, distance is no barrier, and kids learn on their own time and at their own pace, the report said.
There are no snow days no flood days either, said Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the California-based free-market institute.
Izumi is a national author and researcher who appeared in the controversial education documentary Waiting for Superman.
He co-authored the book Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice, which was made into a documentary in 2009.
The virtual school report, commissioned by the Platte Institute for Economic Research, was unveiled during an Omaha education conference that drew about 100 people to the Scott Conference Center.
National, state and local education experts at the conference discussed challenges and proposed reforms in education everything from vouchers and charter schools to teacher standards and merit pay. Izumi was keynote speaker at the conference sponsored by the Platte Institute.
Last year, Gov. Dave Heineman proposed a $20 million virtual high school that would focus on science, technology, engineering and math courses, making them available to students in more remote areas and to struggling urban youth. It would be affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Independent Study High School.
State officials had hoped to fund it with a federal Race to the Top grant, but federal officials twice rejected their application.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed said Tuesday that talks about opening a virtual school have continued, and he hopes the state can someday make it a reality, though the state may have to cover the costs.
He agreed with the report’s conclusion that Nebraska could become a national leader in virtual education.
The report says virtual education helps students from failing schools who need to make up classes, want to earn their GED, are in the juvenile corrections system, need extra help or want to take more advanced-placement and college-level classes.
In Nebraska, Izumi said, a school could address a shortage of math, technology and science teachers in rural areas, providing quality online instruction instead of leaving students in the hands of underqualified teachers.
More than one-third of all Nebraska high schools are in rural or remote areas, and those schools enroll more than half the state’s public elementary and secondary students, the report notes.
Izumi said virtual schools have seen unprecedented growth across the country since being introduced in 1996.
More than a million students nationwide are enrolled in online learning courses, and experts predict that by 2014, one out of every five public school students will be enrolled in some kind of online course, the report said.