Parents are becoming a force to be reckoned with in public education. It’s no longer about just going to PTA meetings and sitting down for the quarterly progress reports. If a parent knows her child is smart, and can learn, but she is not making progress, she can do more than just request tutorials. Many parents are turning to statewide and district level cyber charter schools. Some are turning to virtual academies, but realizing that the state is against making that education available to students in greater numbers. So, parents are getting a bit upset about this, and they are mobilizing.They see no reason why artificial caps should be left on cyber charters, simply because the state sees them as competition. This is about student learning.

I met Rose Fernandez in Phoenix earlier last week, a staunch advocate of online learning and virtual charters from Wisconsin. We talked a day before she headed down to a panel on online schools at the annual meeting of the Virginia School Board Association conference in Williamsburg.  She gave this report of her time there:

Virginia is just getting started in developing virtual charter strategies and has just one statewide school that uses an online curriculum, the Virginia Virtual Academy.  This year they were limited to 400 students despite very high interest meaning many students had to be turned away.  School board members heard from the Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. James “Greg” Smith, about his leadership in serving kids all over Virginia through a full-time online school based in his district.  He and his school board members opened some minds as they told attendees about why they opened the school, how it is run.

I gave the parent’s perspective on how some children need these schools and how families look for a convenient, rigorous curriculum that can be customized for each child with progress based not on age or grades, but on competency.  Another need is collaboration with licensed teachers who are trained to respect and support the parent/child learning team as a mentor/coach.  The Virginia School Board Association members packed the room and asked many questions of the panel.  Awareness of online schooling will hopefully translate to discussions at school board meetings across Virginia.

Fernandez also told me that she met with a bunch of families who have kids that attend Virginia Virtual Academy. “Parents shared their stories with me of children not well served by previous public, private, and homeschooling experiences but doing very well with VAVA.  These parents are pioneering full-time, home-based online public schooling in Virginia.  With more daring district administrators, like those in Carroll County, they soon won’t be so unusual.”

It’s pretty cool to know that there are so many parents out there who see the facts:

Education is a public institution. They can choose what they want for their children. They can reach out to really well established online providers and demand great curriculum.  It’s disappointing to see the families that don’t get it. They stick around wishing school will get better, or they remain in the dark about just how quickly they could turn it around if they mobilized.

Another great resource for stories of how parents are taking public education into the 21st Century comes from California, with Parent Revolution. We wrote about them earlier this year, and interviewed their founder Ben Austin, who said that you could make the system your system.

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