Online schooling can be a great solution

Published 10:10 am Friday, October 19, 2012

Column: Justin Treptow, Guest Column

The new movie “Won’t Back Down” makes for compelling drama. Like many Hollywood films, it abandons subtlety to create sympathetic heroes and hiss-worthy villains. It also minimizes the availability of education options that are less extreme than use of scarce “trigger laws” to take over a school.

Justin Treptow

As head of school at Minnesota Virtual Academy, a tuition-free public school option, I’ve talked with hundreds of parents about choosing online education. It’s never an easy decision and it may not be the right option for every child, but for many children it is a great solution that brings together parents and teachers in a powerful new way. Real-life parents and the characters played by stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis are seeking the same things for their kids.

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Online education doesn’t offer the same dramatic fodder as you see in “Won’t Back Down.” But the movie does provide some lessons that highlight the value virtual schools bring to the educational system.


Parent-teacher partnerships

One of the key aspects of this movie was the way in which a teacher and parent championed student success. Online education makes use of technology to allow parents and teachers to work together seamlessly in the most effective and direct way possible.

The very nature of virtual education puts student and parent front and center, and makes the teacher a critical element in successful online learning programs. The technology is not gratuitous. It empowers teachers to focus on the individual student — on rapid, individualized diagnosis, prescription and intervention — and allows the parent engagement.


Parental engagement

I believe strongly that parents know what is best for their children and that parents who maintain a proactive and engaged approach to their children’s education are a teacher’s best ally. As Maggie Gyllenhaal so aptly put it: “Those parents who lift one ton trucks off their kids? They’ve got nothing on me.”

I encounter that kind of passion and dedication every day. Families that find virtual schools a good fit find themselves more connected, more engaged and more involved in their kids’ education.


School choice

The students enrolled here represent the broadest range of backgrounds. Every day I interact with students who have their own stories to share about why online education was the right choice for them. I’ve seen everything from advanced learners performing above grade level, to students who need more time to grasp concepts, athletes, gifted performers, and to kids seeking bullying relief. None of them have exactly the same needs.

And while it might be a challenging decision for some parents, the key fact is that they should have the right to make a decision about their child’s education. They should have a choice. Every child is different and we need to offer a range of good education choices to meet differing needs. When parents seek solutions outside the brick-and-mortar options, online education introduces a new path towards success for their children.

No matter if you cried during “Won’t Back Down,” or wanted to throw a brick at the screen, I think we can all agree: children deserve to go to a public school that works best for them. Online schools are one such option.


Justin Treptow is Head of School at Minnesota Virtual Academy, a tuition-free online public school.