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It's Easy to Shut Down a Virtual School

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For hundreds of Tennessee students, this year may be their last to spend in the educational method of their parents’ choosing. If the Tennessee Virtual Academy doesn’t perform miraculously well on state tests for the 2014-2015 school year, then it will be shut down. The question TNVA parents are asking, however, is why?

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Why shut down the school, when it’s clearly showing significant improvement? Why shut down the school, when there are schools across the state with much lower tests scores, where teachers are not being threatened with losing their jobs and students are not being threatened with the disappearance of their school? Why shut down the school, when it’s still in its early years, and problems are still being worked out?

First and foremost, it is far easier to shut down a virtual school than a brick and mortar one. There are no facilities to deal with. No materials that will need to be cleaned out and shuttled elsewhere. Teachers won’t have to clean out their classrooms, or be allowed further access to the building—because there is no building.

There is no place for legislators to walk in and see what students are doing each day. No place for them to see children who have struggled for years finally performing like any other student. No place for them to look over a child’s shoulder and observe real learning taking place…and so those children are not real to them.

Perhaps they would not be real anyway. Perhaps to these legislators, children are not people, but rather numbers, and test scores, and standards that must be crammed into their heads. Perhaps they are statistics. Many legislators have not set foot in a school since their graduation, and have no intent to do so in the foreseeable future.

It’s easy to shut down a virtual school. In a brick and mortar school, there are students who need to be reallocated. Virtual school students already belong to other districts. Overcrowding is already an issue in many of these districts, but that’s not the state’s problem.

It’s easy to shut down a virtual school. There are no teachers who have been there for years and years and years, whose classrooms are their homes away from home. They’re already working from home. Surely they won’t have any problem getting a job in a “real” school, where there are already too few classrooms for the necessary teachers and budget cuts are making it impossible to hire as many teachers as the school needs…right?

It’s easy to shut down a virtual school. There are no numbers to swap around, no money to reallocate, no shuffle to determine what is done with the funding for the school.

In the minds of many legislators, the Tennessee Virtual Academy isn’t “real.” It isn’t a place they can go to, and touch, and see. But it’s a place in the hearts and minds of the children who attend there. It’s a place in the minds of the parents who are relieved by this opportunity for their children. And it’s in need of a miracle.