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Michigan is taking innovation by the horns. Accompanying all the current political talk around school choice, Detroit Public Schools Community District has launched a virtual school. It has not been easy for families enrolled in the full-time virtual school. Here’s how they are doing: 

Backgound

  • Virtual learning has been part of student life since the pandemic began in 2020.
  • Ahead of this school year, school officials were banking on the virtual option becoming a permanent fixture for students who thrive in the online space.
  • The district also hoped the virtual school would accommodate families’ health and safety concerns.

Concerns

  • Families are finding that being enrolled in the district’s virtual school hasn’t always been easy.  
  • Parent concerns include
    • virtual classrooms are too full
    • some classes are not staffed consistently
    • program hasn’t provided enough services for their children with special education needs 
    • missing electives and extracurriculars

Effectiveness

  • The virtual school has been received mixed reviews from parents.
    • Some found it safer due to pandemic threats on their children’s health conditions.
    • Some felt better supported in this environment.
    • While others felt special learning accommodations and needs were not met well. 
    • Some of the educational, behavioral, and physical needs of particular students cannot be met in a virtual learning environment. 

Future for the virtual school

  • The district is considering limiting enrollment to grades 4-12 in the 2022-23 school year, as school officials have questioned whether the virtual school is the right space for early literacy in pre-kindergarten to third grade.
  • District is “exploring the possibility of” advanced courses and more electives in the future.
  • For the time being, the school will focus on its core classes and support for exceptional student education, or ESE, students.
  • Other resources such as after-school tutoring, may be offered if teachers are willing to work after long days of screen time. 

Summary

  • Challenges school districts have faced so far with virtual learning are not damning nor are they unlike compliants received by traditional campuses during the pandemic.
  • There’s a long road ahead for school district leaders to design and implement high quality online learning options that balance the flexibility of remote instruction with the academic standards of in-person learning.
  • Good remote learning environment needs to be done with intentionality and based on research best practices.

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