Asbury family sees benefit in online schools - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Asbury family sees benefit in online schools

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ASBURY (KWWL) -

Two online schools are set to open in Iowa in the fall, and the education method has been drawing some criticism and concern.

For Abul Fazal Irfan and his family, however, online education is the way to go.

Eight-year-old Saboor Irfan and his seven-year-old sister Nawall Irfan are home-schooled through a correspondence course, but next year, they'll get their education online through Iowa Virtual Academy.

"It follows the state standard, and plus it gives your child an individualized lesson plan," father Abul Fazal Irfan said in the family's Asbury home Monday.

The family's oldest child enrolled in a virtual academy, owned by the same company as Iowa Virtual Academy, when the Irfans lived in Arizona. Irfan said they had a good experience.

"I'm completely satisfied with them," Irfan said. "I think it worked out better."

Iowa Virtual Academy operates through the Clayton Ridge Community School District in Guttenberg, but students anywhere in the state could enroll to start kindergarten through sixth grade in the fall, online.

Allan Nelson is the superintendent of Clayton Ridge Community School District.

"We have a state-approved curriculum and we have all of the assessments of statewide testing that is required," Nelson said, "so, basically, it's bringing the public school into the home."

Nelson said his district and CAM School District in Anita, which is opening the state's only other online school, are offering students a different way to learn.

"For some students that don't socialize all that well or feel like they fit in to the brick-and-mortar building, they might thrive in this situation," Nelson said.

Just like for any public school, there's no tuition the family pays, and the state provides nearly $6,000 to the district where each student open enrolls.

For Iowa Virtual Academy, which has nearly 150 students signed up, 3.5 percent of that money goes to the Clayton Ridge School District and the rest goes to K12 Inc., the Virginia-based company that owns online schools in 29 states (not including Iowa). Nelson said the company uses part of that other 96.5 percent to pay for curriculum, materials and a handful of teachers in Iowa.

Some people, including Western Dubuque School District superintendent Jeff Corkery, have concerns about the online schools.

"It just seems like we're selling a diploma," he said. "They're going to be out there, being held accountable to public school requirements without really setting foot in a public school."

He said there's a place for online learning in the classroom, but a school entirely online keeps students from valuable interaction with others.

"I think anything that takes that off the table -- the socialization, to be able to collaborate and be able to work with people -- is a very poor thing," Corkery said Monday at his office in the district building.

Nelson said the school organizes occasional field trips and social gatherings between students who live nearby, regionally, within the state.

Iowa Virtual Academy enrollment for students entering first through sixth grades ended March 1, though students entering kindergarten may open enroll through Sept. 1. So far, the online school has students from all over the state, including Dubuque, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City and Council Bluffs.

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