Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is closing Tennessee Virtual Academy the answer?

Former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman threatened to close down the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) due to poor academic performance. And, in fact, there is a sunset law coming into play this year that should the TN Legislature not extend the law, the school would have to close.

TNVA currently serves approximately 1300 kids across this State I call home. Recently hundreds of TNVA parents, students, teachers and administration made their way to Nashville to plead for it to remain open.

I have recently had numerous families in TNVA reach out to me for my thoughts on it, and have turned down a few interviews for stories related to TNVA and whether or not it deserves to be closed.

And now, four paragraphs into this post and I have yet to touch on answering the question I posed in the title: Is closing TNVA the answer?

First, I would re-frame the question. Instead of arguing over whether or not TNVA deserves to remain open, make the question related to the 1300 students that would be impacted by this decision.

If TNVA were to close, what choice would each student have for school next year? Why did they choose TNVA this year? How would it benefit each student by, in essence, returning them to the place they left because it was not meeting their needs?

In reality, there is not a single answer that will suffice here. There are, in fact, 1300 different answers to this question.

Second, let's not make this a Yes or No question and answer. Instead, what if we explored ways in which to transform TNVA and its model into one that will serve the students and families. What if TNVA attracted students that would be a better fit for its model? What if TNVA built itself around even some of the Nine Essentials I proposed in an earlier post related to virtual schools? What if TNVA adapted a blended version of itself in key areas of the State? What if . . .?

Instead of making this a decision related to staying open or closing, make this a decision about transforming the model (not tweaking) moving forward. Make it a decision about the future possibilities not just the past results.

Third, if the decision is to close TNVA, my hope is that it is made based on the implementation of the model, not on the overall virtual concept. Virtual learning has great promise and it can serve the right students remarkably (when implemented correctly).

So, what is my answer? Actually I can see both sides of the argument. However I can't help but give thought to the faces of the 1300 students.

Perhaps the real question is what is best for each one of them?

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