Henry Ford is famously quoted as saying that one could buy his cars in any color so long as it was black. Virtual charter schools provide a similar lack of flexibility despite claims to the contrary.
Private home education has historically thrived in part due to its inherent flexibility, both as to choice of curriculum, timing, and educational philosophy. Parents can select from any curriculum that is available, including those that reflect the worldview of the parents. They can offer instruction in the subjects that are naturally of interest to their child’s curiosity at the time. A student with a fascination with Roman history will not be forced to study Idaho history merely because that is what he would have studied that year in the public school. A student who has excelled in math will not be required to dawdle while her teacher instructs the rest of the class in the basics that this student has already mastered.
Likewise, in private home education a student who learns kinesthetically will not be hobbled to a program designed for students who are visual or auditory learners.
Virtual charter school programs, on the other hand, lack this flexibility for several reasons.
First, as a public school program, virtual charter schools are required to teach certain subjects at certain grade levels. It makes absolutely no difference that a student has a fascination with a different subject matter at the moment. Although virtual programs permit a limited ability to accelerate learning, all students at the same grade level will be required to move forward in lockstep. Students are not permitted to ignore one subject to embrace a different subject about which they are currently enthusiastic.
Second, most virtual charter school programs offer little, if any, flexibility in terms of curriculum. Every student in the Idaho Virtual Academy, for example, will be taught from the K12 curriculum to which the school subscribes. Although parents have the freedom to supplement that curriculum with other materials that may be better-suited to the needs of their child, they cannot choose to ignore the required curriculum.
Even in the IDEA program, which came to Idaho with promises that the parents could select the curriculum that best suited the needs of their child (and even the spiritual perspectives of the parent), the range of “approved” curricula has slowly narrowed over time. That program has methodically aligned its curriculum to the Idaho state standards. In the process, it has lost much of the flexibility that was initially promised to parents.
Private home education, on the other hand, allows parents to respond to teachable moments. It permits parents to deviate from the planned program or curriculum to respond to the momentary curiosity of the child. In so doing, it delivers information that is eagerly grasped by the child in a manner never to be forgotten.
Likewise, private home schooling permits parents to select curriculum that is appropriate for the learning style of the child. Is the child a kinesthetic/tactile, an auditory, or a visual learner? By taking advantage of curricula designed for those with these particular learning styles, the level of academic mastery among students privately taught at home increases dramatically.
Other than the direct and active involvement of the student’s parents in the instruction itself, it is this inherent flexibility that has enabled students taught at home in Idaho, and across the country, to excel academically. It has equipped those students to routinely score between the 80th and the 85th percentile on standardized achievement tests.
Virtual charter schools, on the other hand, do not and cannot offer their students this same level of flexibility. The scores of virtual charter school students on the ISAT test indicates that they are probably scoring on average below the 50th percentile, compared with the documented scores of privately home educated students which are consistently above the 80th percentile.