A crack at real choice in education

Joe Enge

Choice for education in Nevada has long been greatly lacking. A small number of charter schools have existed, but they have been constantly and purposefully exposed and limited — for the best interests of the establishment, not the students.

Now, however, there is a major crack in the dike.

The Nevada Connections Academy (NCA), a new distance charter school for Silver State residents, was approved by the Nevada Board of Education in early March.

The school begins serving students this August and is now accepting applications for those entering grades 4-11. Grade 12 is scheduled to be offered in 2008-09.

NCA is one of a number of online public schools now operated in different states by the national Connections Academy organization, which describes itself as “a leading national provider of high quality, highly accountable K-12 virtual public schools operated in partnership with charter schools and school districts.”

“Connections Academy schools,” says a company statement, “deliver top-quality, personalized education for students that combines certified teachers; a proven, print-rich curriculum; technology tools; and community experiences to create a supportive and successful environment for children who need an individualized approach to education.”

During the 2006-07 school year, Connections Academy schools served students in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

NCA staffers will be meeting with interested Nevada parents and conducting in-person information sessions around the state beginning July 23 and ending August 15. According to an online announcement, the cities visited will be Sparks, Yerington, Henderson, Laughlin, Las Vegas, Pahrump, Winnemucca, Elko, Carson City and Reno, in that order. Also scheduled are online virtual-meeting info sessions from July 20 through August 20. More specific details can be found at the Nevada Connections Academy website, which is part of www.connectionsacademy.com .

For too long, Nevada public education has operated with a “take it or leave it” attitude. This has meant that many parents, if not satisfied with the establishment’s provision of education, have been forced into either home school or private school — both at great personal cost. Now, technology, foresight, and vision have evolved to the point that families in Nevada have another option.

Although competition and choice are anathema to the establishment, it apparently found itself — like the Soviets facing the realities of their system’s failure — compelled to acknowledge a good concept that will embrace and individualize student needs.

The technology to provide education to any and all in this fashion has been around for years. What blocked it was a system that says “think outside of the box,” but at the same time feared if anyone really did.

With the approval of NCA as Nevada’s newest charter school, institutional thinking outside the box has now occurred. As a parent, former teacher, and current public school board member, I recognize the more options provided in education the better. Though I’ve tried to cut through the “take it or leave it” attitude in public schools, so far I’ve not had much success. The reason is that the key ingredient of competition has been missing.

I am personally forwarding NCA’s contact information to parents dissatisfied with my own school district, because I want what is best for the students. Even school board members cannot cut through the arrogant attitudes of administrators who know there are few other options available to their involuntary clients: the parents and students.

Any and all who claim to wrap themselves around the “it’s for the children” concept need to be challenged about choice. Pass the word and recommend Nevada Connections Academy. As a parent, I want options. As a teacher, I welcome competition. As a school board member, I see first-hand the smug “you don’t have options” attitude — that needs a really serious kick in the backside.

As Nevada Connections Academy opens its doors, we all need to appreciate the dedication that this achievement entailed and be ready to defend the educational options it provides.

We have two obligations: to pass the word and to defend, for surely the empire will strike back. The sooner we recognize that options and opportunities for parents and students are good things, the quicker we’ll see real improvement in our students’ performance and results.

Joe Enge is education policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.