Virtual Learning |

A+ Testifies Before TX Senate Education Committee

October 8, 2012

Oral Testimony Delivered to the Texas Senate Education Committee Interim Charge Hearing on Virtual Learning, October 8, 2012 By Scott Van Beck Ed.D., Executive Director, Houston A+ Challenge

“I want to start by offering this opinion:  There is a tension between traditional school systems and virtual learning.  The tension usually starts with arguing about average daily attendance accounting, but continues with teacher scheduling problems, a difficulty predicting school space needs, and a host of other issues.

“My comments today should be linked to the committee’s recent conversation about state charters and school choice.

“Think about a Texas kid who is stuck in a low-performing school.  In our view at Houston A+ Challenge, most traditional school districts are not offering enough great learning choices for those families.  If the state lifts the cap on charters, that would allow an organization like A+ to create what we have named, in our design phase – mobile schools.

“Unlike the traditional virtual schools discussed here today — which depend on pedagogy from one curriculum and instructional source (a point made by Dr. Barbour earlier today) — the mobile school could offer multiple options for curriculum and instructional for the learner.  In the mobile school design, the teacher is really a “teaching and learning designer” and a coach. 


"That’s why our design team has included professional architects, along with school leaders and smart blended-learning coaches.

These types of mobile schools take advantage of a newer learning technology, something called personal learning networks.  Imagine a school that can take advantage of great teaching and learning design, where a family, in consultation with strong designer/coach leadership, can design the instruction for the best learning outcomes possible for that kid stuck in a bad school.

"Our early business model suggests the probability of a better pool of teachers (to Senator Shapiro’s point earlier today – why limit our best teacher pool to district, state, or national boundaries? – and to Senator Van de Putte’s earlier question on why Texas colleges and universities aren’t preparing these types of teachers, or, as we like to call them, learning coaches?), higher teacher pay, lower operational overhead, and less need for brick-and-mortar school financing.

"We think this will lead to a more efficient and effective teaching and learning system, while still maintaining Texas public schools, even though the mobile school might look very different than what our schools have looked like over the past 150 years.  We also think these schools offer the opportunity for greater equity and access than our traditional school systems.

"So we would ask the Senators to create a wide field for innovative practices by lifting the state charter cap to allow the concepts discussed here today — associated with virtual schooling, blended learning, connected education, whatever we want to call it — to affect school choice options for Texas families in much the same way the charter school movement was offered to us in the last century.  We would ask the Senators to think about a two-year pilot to study the successful convergence between state charters, virtual learning, and school choice.

"Government can play the role as a relinquisher (to allow a wider, more innovative playing field) and at the same time play the role of monitor, evaluator, and enforcer.  Indeed, this is what our Texas schoolchildren are depending on.