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All-Online K-12 Needed in N.M.

One size doesn’t fit all. This is a key principle in public education reform and why charter schools — with their innovative approach to decision-making, scheduling, staffing, curriculum and filling in the gaps in traditional education — have energized students and parents in New Mexico.

Technology is revolutionizing our culture, including our educational system. Nationally, public virtual schools are utilizing technology to transform and personalize learning, improve academic performance and reduce dropout rates.

The New Mexico Public Education Commission recently shut the door on giving parents the option of the state’s first K-12 statewide virtual school, New Mexico Connections Academy, despite support from a bipartisan group of commission members, including all those from Albuquerque, and a recommendation for the Public Education Department to approve the academy.

Our founding board recently voted to appeal the commission ruling to the secretary of Public Education because New Mexico Connections Academy is good for Albuquerque — where there is strong demand for a virtual school — and New Mexico. There are many profound gaps in public education. With state-certified teachers, actively engaged learning coaches, individualized learning programs, standards-aligned curriculum and the leading digital learning resources, New Mexico Connections Academy will fill those gaps and bring educational success to New Mexico students who, for a variety of reasons, have not thrived in a traditional classroom setting.

Here are four reasons why New Mexico Connections Academy should be authorized by the secretary:

♦ New Mexico’s persistently disappointing educational outcomes require a new approach. Our state ranks 49th out of all the states in education, according to the 2012 Kids Count project from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Almost four in 10 students don’t graduate, and that’s unacceptable. By harnessing technology’s ability to personalize education, we have a chance to reach students we’re losing and restart many students’ educational lives.

♦ New Mexico has a large, underserved student population that will benefit from this individualized educational program. Brick-and-mortar traditional and charter schools reach students only within their physical proximity, but a high-quality virtual school can leverage teachers and curriculum to meet the needs of students anywhere in our state. Many students who live in rural communities will gain an attractive new public education alternative. Our school will help meet the diversity of geographical and technological needs, linguistic structures and unique cultures that are valued in New Mexico.

♦ New Mexico families, educators and community leaders want fully online learning options. New Mexico families have shown a strong interest in our full-time virtual charter school. More than 3,200 New Mexico families independently reached out to NMCA to learn more about our proposed school.

♦ New Mexico lags behind the rest of the country. Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning/2011, the well-respected annual e-learning report, gave New Mexico low marks for the relative paucity of virtual learning opportunities available to our K-12 students.

There is a large body of education research demonstrating how technology is modernizing education and helping students achieve academic success by delivering engaging, student-centric learning.

The gaps in public education are getting wider and the demands for reform and results are stronger. Let’s stop playing catch up and move quickly into the 21st century.

Sen. Mark Boitano, an Albuquerque Republican, helped craft the 1999 Charter School Act. Patrick Lopez is the director at Explora and is a former public schoolteacher and administrator.

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