Throughout the pandemic, school districts across America gave families their first taste of remote learning… and it stunk for most of them. Students struggled at home with shoddy curriculum, watching teachers try to solve technical glitches in real time, while parents prayed for a prompt reopening and return to brick-and-mortar schools.
Some school districts even dared to say that they – and only they – should have control over the educational options available to families. This led to a resounding backlash in favor of school choice and greater parental involvement in deciding how and where their children should learn.
This was the driving force behind Virginia parents sending a school choice advocate to the governor’s mansion in November and will undoubtedly lead to a wave of change in the upcoming election cycle.
We recently celebrated National School Choice Week, where we stood for parents as they demand greater control over their children’s education – a more critical need this year than ever before. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was that too many of our children lack the educational options they need to succeed.
In K-12 education, one size does NOT fit all. Brick-and-mortar schools offer an excellent solution for most students, but they should not be the only option. We must provide families with a variety of educational options and allow them to select whichever is best suited for their needs.
Likewise, we need to constantly explore new approaches to education. We must encourage innovation in schools just as in any other field, from technology to health care. We cannot stand by while today’s students struggle with 30-year-old remote learning systems, using outdated technology that doesn’t mesh with how young people think and process information today.
It’s time we offer better options for thousands of families who are best served by virtual education, from those who enjoy and thrive in homeschool, who would otherwise have to attend poor-performing or unsafe local public schools to students living in rural communities or those who require isolation due to health conditions.
Some forms of school choice have put old technology in the rear-view mirror, rocketing ahead with the latest in tech innovation. For example, I am associated with a new venture into virtual
reality (VR) education, Optima Classical Academy, which will become the world’s first VR charter school when it opens this fall. We look forward to welcoming thousands of Florida students in 3rd through 8th grades to experience a K12 education unique from any other today.
VR is quickly ushering in the next step in education evolution thanks to its ability to “transport” individuals to new, interactive environments across space and time. The ability to experience virtual places with others unlocks a new form of communication and a profoundly improved method of remote learning.
The VR experience is superior to “Zoom school,” which had adverse effects on kids’ academic and social development. Parents of students who choose at-home learning are excited for this innovative approach because it allows students to interact with one another and a high-quality classical curriculum in a way no screen could ever offer.
Our country’s next generation will be better educated if – and only if – parents get more freedom to choose what is best for their unique needs. Technological advancements like VR are crucial for giving parents more options. We must join together and support them in exercising academic freedom year-round.
Erika Donalds is a school choice advocate and CEO & President of Optima Foundation.