Iowa Experiments with Online Education

Apr 22, 2013

Iowa is nearing the end of the first year of a three-year experiment with the Iowa Virtual Academy.

It’s a three-year trial established by the Iowa General Assembly. Legislators are exempting two school districts from a state law prohibiting K-12 public school students from open-enrolling out of their local school to Internet classes. The Clayton Ridge district near Guttenberg, and CAM near Anita are authorized to receive open-enrolled students from across the state.  In turn, Clayton Ridge and CAM contract with out-of-state, for-profit firms to provide teachers for the students who study at their homes. 

“So far, I love it,” said Christine Larson, who lives in a rural area north of Fort Dodge, Iowa. She is the in-home, learning coach for her two sons who are open-enrolled to the Clayton-Ridge district. Christine, who holds a college Master’s degree, but not in education, assists her third grade son, Isaac, and kindergarten student, Abram with their lessons.

Christine’s husband, Brent Larson, is even more passionate about the Iowa Virtual Academy.  He bristles at applying the term, experimental, to Iowa’s three-year on-line education trial. Brent contends on-line classes are proven K-12 options, and that Iowa lags many other states.

However, State Representative, Mary Masher, says “This was supposed to be a licensed teacher providing instruction for the children, and then the parent would be there as support. But, I’m not sure that’s how it’s been working.”  Masher, a retired teacher, says legislators are awaiting test data to determine the Virtual Academy’s future.

Iowa Department of Education Director, Jason Glass, says overall evidence shows on-line education results aren’t appreciably different from traditional classrooms. Glass adds, “I think that we have to continue to hold it open for some students that it might be right for.”

Christine Larson and her son, Isaac, are part of an online education experiment in Iowa called the Virtual Academy
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Legislators capped open-enrollment to the two districts offering on-line learning at nine-hundred students. Clayton Ridge has 62 students and CAM has 240 enrolled in the Iowa Virtual Academy.