It’s time to remove limitations on online learning


July 30, 2020 12:44PM

From daycare to college, education will not be returning to normal for most of the country anytime soon. In Tennessee, the Knox and Hamilton county school boards recently announced their plan for the upcoming school year, giving parents the option to send their children to in-person classes or to take a semester fully online. For the two largest school districts in the state, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools, students will start their year fully online.

This new acceptance of online learning at every level should be lauded as a win for educational freedom. While higher education has long made strides for online learning, K-12 has generally lagged behind, opting for traditional in-person instruction or only offering a limited choice of online classes. It is unfortunate that it took COVID-19 to compel this recent change. However, the acceptance of virtual learning from school boards and administrators across the country may lead to improved educational outcomes. In Tennessee however, the choice of how virtual learning takes place is currently limited by state law.

Around the country, there are twenty-one states that allow online charter schools to operate, but Tennessee is not one of them, being one of a handful of states to strictly prohibit their creation. Charter schools operate in a similar fashion to public schools: open enrollment, publicly funded, authorized by a local school board, and their academic performance is monitored, ensuring educational outcomes are being met. A state law prohibiting their existence, especially during a pandemic, does nothing to alleviate the worries of parents who may not wish to send their children back to a physical classroom full-time or in a blended fashion. Nor does it do anything to meet the needs of a child who would benefit from this learning model.  

A recent USA Today survey suggests one in five teachers would not want to return to the classroom this fall because of COVID-19. More surprising was that sixty percent of parents responded that they are looking into some form of home education for their children. The prohibition of online charter schools limits the choices of parents to find the best option for their child, especially in these uncertain times. Tennessee should not prohibit a new educational option from being on the table, especially when potential risks still exist for the safety of children and teachers. 

The utmost priority of education systems should be to protect the safety of students and propel their learning. The changes in education arising from the pandemic may be viewed as a temporary necessity by some, but it could serve as floodgates for educational innovation, reaching more students with a more personalized learning model. The state should not prohibit public education from being accessed, no matter the medium in which it is delivered, whether it’s traditional in-class instruction, blended learning, virtual, or home- or micro-schooling. The symbol of a student handing an apple to a teacher may no longer be the norm, but students should have the option to access classes on an Apple (or a Windows PC for those who can’t stand Macs) so that they can attain their educational goals.