At the beginning of another school year, a story in Saturday’s Journal-World calls attention to a district school that many local residents know little about: the Lawrence Virtual School and the Lawrence Virtual High School. The story also raises some questions and concerns about those schools and looks at how school district leaders are hoping to address some of those issues.
About 1,500 students were enrolled in the two virtual schools last year: 1,165 at LVS, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and just under 300 students at the virtual high school. The virtual schools originally were envisioned as a way to serve students who had special needs or were being home-schooled. However, they also were an attractive option for students outside the district, which now account for about 90 percent of the schools’ enrollment.
The district receives additional state funding for the schools, but the facilities have lost some of their local connection. The Lawrence district owns and operates LVS, and K-8 classses are taught by Lawrence district employees but the curriculum for the school is purchased from K12 Inc., a for-profit company based in Herndon, Va. The virtual high school has even less local connection. It is wholly owned and operated by K12 Inc., which receives all of the Lawrence district’s state funding allocation for the virtual school students.
The Lawrence district has put its name on these schools but may not exercise as much control over their operation as district patrons, or school officials, might like. Of specific concern are low test scores at the schools. State assessment data show overall student performance at both schools is well below both Lawrence district and statewide averages. There are certain justifications, such as medical or behavior issues, that may contribute to the lower scores, but district officials are right not to be satisfied with the performance of the virtual schools.
As Superintendent Rick Doll noted, virtual education is becoming a greater part of the classroom experience at all district schools and that trend may make it easier to tie instruction at the virtual schools more closely to what’s going on in other district schools. District patrons likely would applaud efforts to pull control of those schools closer to the district rather than relying so much on a private, for-profit company to operate those facilities.
It’s nice to think that Lawrence has a virtual education program that attracts so many students from outside the district, but the decline in local control and test scores are cause for concern. The top priority for the local district always should be to provide the best possible virtual and traditional education opportunities for students right here in Lawrence.