Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

School Districts with Ongoing Virtual Schooling Options

Public charters have been in the business of offering online instruction for a year now, but major districts have decided they can keep it going for longer. School will resume in-person five days a week in fall of 2021 for those who want it. Some – a surprising number, perhaps – want no part.

Some districts already operated their own virtual schools. Many more have made recent announcements.

It is unclear at this point how many families will want online education even beyond the 2021 – 2022 school year. Some families are focused on present day uncertainties: They don’t want to send their children back until the vaccine is available at their age level. Others, though, want continued virtual options because they are working for them. There are some who saw their children thrive in online learning – even as the majority of the nation’s students saw ill effects. A recent article, Choosing In-Person or Online School: Racial Divides, sites a recent February 2021 survey that found approximately two times as many Black and Hispanic families preferred continued online learning as white families did.

Some districts say no. But the Rand Foundation reported in 2020 that about one in five districts had plans for a continued virtual option.

Initial reports had Seattle Public Schools announcing a full return to in-person learning in fall of 2021. A closer look -- or a listen to the new superintendent's words -- reveal it's a return to full in-person for most families, but that there will be an online option still for families who elect it. It's one more option for a district that's long been fond of offering options -- and one that doesn't require a fleet of school buses.

Seattle Public Schools distinguishes between two groups those who have not been well served in their school whether because of racism or bullying and those that truly thrive on online learning. For the former group, they want to hard look at making things, with supports present in the physical building.

Districts around the nation have decisions to make.

Why Virtual?

Individualization is among the potential benefits.

There are some learner-driven reasons for districts to continue to offer virtual education. Virtual learning can feel impersonal. Yet some educators note that virtual education offers increased opportunities for personalization, including one-on-one support. In the “real world”, teachers manage large groups of students through most of the school day even as they strive to meet individual needs. The chief information and strategy officer of Santa Fe Public Schools notes that school scheduling has traditionally been driven by operational issues. It’s not student needs that has students in the upper grades attending seven forty-eight minute classes.

There are also some strong practical reasons for districts to maintain virtual programs. They don’t want to lose their students. Some districts are allowing enrollment from out-of-district students. State funding plays a part. In Texas, for example, legislation makes it easier, monetary-wise, for some districts to offer programs than others – they still receive full funding. There is a movement toward leveling the playing field.

Teacher Preparation: Certificate Programs for Virtual Educators

Bowling Green State University offers an Online Teaching and Learning Certificate. Psychological Foundations of E-Learning is among the courses in the sequence. The program culminates with a practicum. Qualified students may be able to use past experience for competency-based practicum.

American Public University offers courses in both K-12 online learning and K-12 virtual school administration.

Montclair State University offers a program in online special education.

*States with Online Instruction Endorsements Offered

Getting Online Instruction Right

Hybrid learning -- with two cohorts of students tuned in simultaneously, some from home and school -- has often proven stressful and is likely to become less common moving forward. Schools may broadcast to mature learners. To young children? Less likely.

School systems are making decisions about enrollment. Is virtual education for all who want it? If not, who is it for? Montgomery County Public Schools has stated that emotional health issues and prior success in virtual education will be considered in making decisions for the 2021 – 2022 school year. According to an April 2021 article, MCPS criteria would likely be more stringent at the elementary level than the high school level (

School districts are considering how to improve online education in other ways. The goal is to make it better than early pandemic era instruction and also it better than pre-pandemic dalliances with virtual academies.

The Star Tribune recently reported on developments in Minnesota. Eden Prairie is among multiple Minnesota districts that have decided to staff their online programs with their own district employees ( In the past, some schools had contracted out for online services, resulting in quality and regulatory issues.

MCPS is among the many districts that has announced that students will remain members of their home school and will have the opportunity to participate in activities like sports. North Kansas City Schools reports that students will be able to participate in activities like Reading Round-Up Night at their local schools and that middle school and secondary school students will be eligible for sports competitions.

MCPS reports that staffing will represent one difference going forward. Virtual teaching will be a job for teachers who truly want to do virtual teaching.

Chances are there will be more online opportunities for teachers going forward. Districts need skilled online educators. They also need leaders.