116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Although schools are seeing a drop in enrollment in virtual learning programs that sprung out of the pandemic, educators still see value in offering the option to some students.
The Iowa City Community School District’s program — ICCSD Online — still has one of the largest enrollment of students in virtual programming in Eastern Iowa, although it has declined. It also is one of the only virtual learning programs in Eastern Iowa to offer live instruction by district teachers.
Other school districts use a K-12 online learning platform called Edgenuity to provide virtual instruction to their students. Edgenuity can provide students age-appropriate lessons with access to tools that support learning, including text-to-speech, audio and translation and text and picture dictionaries. The program offers a self-paced, flexible option in which students are expected to make daily progress on assignments and lessons.
“Our ICCSD Online educators are proud to be part of students’ lives. They want to connect and create meaningful relationships and provide the same high-quality learning experiences for our students,” Iowa City schools spokeswoman Kristin Pedersen said. “I think it’s a learning model that will continue to grow and develop. It might not be for all, but it is right for some.”
There are 180 students enrolled this year in ICCSD Online, including 35 students who are open-enrolled in to the program from other school districts.
When ICCSD Online first launched for the 2021-22 school year, families may have enrolled their children out of the desire or need for health and safety mitigation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pedersen said. Now, families may choose it because they have found “great success” in the virtual learning environment.
Other students might need the flexibility virtual learning provides, so they can pursue other interests or activities such as work experience, internships, therapies, athletics or arts, Pedersen said.
This year, ICCSD Online added more educators and supports, including:
- Positive behavior supports and interventionists, who support students' behavioral, academic, social, emotional and mental health;
- Intervention supports for academics, social-emotional learning and attendance;
- Improved access to special education services and English language development;
- And access to teachers and support staff for students during times when they’re learning on their own for additional one-on-one or small group support.
ICCSD Online does use Edgenuity courses for a few electives the district cannot offer as live options, when there is a conflict in a student’s schedule with a live class or if there is a need for credit recovery, Pedersen said.
Cedar Rapids, College Community and Linn-Mar school districts also are seeing declining enrollment in their virtual learning programs, which all primarily use Edgenuity.
At its peak, the College Community School District had 720 students participating in virtual learning. This year, that number is down to 38. “Overall, parents in our district preferred face-to-face instruction, especially K-6,” said Roderick Wade, executive director of secondary programs at College Community.
At Linn-Mar, enrollment in virtual learning has dropped from 175 K-12 students in the 2021-22 school year to only 33 this year, Associate Superintendent Nathan Wear said. Much of this is attributed to the school allowing students to enroll in the virtual learning program only if they have significant health needs that prevent them from attending school in-person, he said.
If students fail a virtual class, they can’t continue in online learning. “We think the best learning happens face-to-face,” Wear said.
Edgenuity costs Linn-Mar about $3,000 per student, which is about half the amount schools receive through state supplemental aid — which provides per pupil funding for K-12 public schools. This cost was “better than losing those students” to other school districts, and the funding for the program last year came from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, funding provided to schools to offset costs during the pandemic.
Wear said in the future he could like to see Linn-Mar creating its own online classes similar to Iowa City’s structure.
“We’re not going back to where we were before,” Wear said. “The pandemic helped us understand kids can learn in different ways, and face-to-face doesn’t have to be the only option. We’re learning how we can continue to meet the needs of our families.”
Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy — an option in the Cedar Rapids Community School District — stopped offering teacher-led virtual instruction this year in the second year of the program. Instead, Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy is using Edgenuity to offer self-paced, online instruction monitored by Cedar Rapids teachers.
Last year, students enrolled in the Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy had daily, live, online instruction with a district teacher and some independent work.
There is about a 60:1 student-teacher ratio in the program in the K-8 program, according to the district’s website. Dan DeVore, who began overseeing the program in June, said there is one teacher for elementary school and one teacher for the middle school.
There are currently 69 elementary and middle school students enrolled in Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy, compared with about 300 students enrolled last year.
DeVore said students who do really well have the space and support at home to do their schoolwork. “I think the pandemic showed parents there are options for their child’s education they can explore,” he said.
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