Loughrey said the TEA may someday allow more school districts and charter schools to offer online education. However, even if the agency proceeds immediately, it would take a few years because the statewide database would need adjustments.

User-Friendly

Caroline Hartung, the mother of a TXVA student, always homeschooled her daughter, Ashley, 9, who is in fourth grade. Caroline said the process became much easier after enrolling Ashley in the TXVA. In the past, she mostly "winged it" when assembling her daughter's curriculum. She spent more than $1,000 on lesson books and other materials at teacher supply stores each school year. She said it was nice to fund her daughter's education by taxes she has to pay anyway.

Caroline was reluctant, at first, to teach her children.

"I was one of those moms who thought that to teach your children school, you had to have a college degree in teaching. It's just not true. Anybody can homeschool their kids," Caroline said.

She said the TXVA's teaching manuals are user-friendly, and Deschner, Ashley's teacher, is always available for questions via telephone or e-mail.

"Say I have a lesson that totally stumps me - I might put that lesson off until the next day," Caroline said. "If I e-mail the teacher, she always gets in touch with me within 24 hours. Then I have it, and I'm on the road again. That really hasn't happened a whole lot because there are so many resources you can draw from if you don't understand something. It helps me to look through the lesson before I teach it."

Ashley said her favorite subject to learn from her mother is math.

"She gets really excited when she teaches me math because that's her favorite subject," Ashley said.

TXVA also provides physical education lesson plans.

"They offer exercises that they teach on a TV class, but we also do jump rope, hopscotch and relay races to make it a fun activity," Caroline said.

Ashley also plays soccer in a community recreation program and is interested in singing. The TXVA's music and arts curriculum is helpful, although it's below Ashley's ability level, said Caroline.

"They have the music class where she can learn to read music, pitch, tone and all of those things," Caroline said.

Ashley said her favorite part of learning at home is that she avoids bullies.

"There is a lot of gossiping. People tell other people promises that they really don't keep. When you're homeschooling, you don't have to deal with that," Ashley said.

What does she dislike about homeschooling?

"If I were in a public school, I'd get to be around my friends, like my next-door neighbor and the other people who live in my neighborhood a lot more," Ashley said.

Deschner said online learning meets the needs of kids who fell through the cracks in traditional public schools.

"I've got kids who have asthma who could not function well in a brick-and-mortar school and are doing wonderfully in this program," Deschner said, later adding, "I've got children who had attention issues, and the one-on-one they're getting through their parent is fabulous. You can't replicate that in a brick-and-mortar school very easily due to lack of teachers.

"We're seeing children grow academically who would not have grown in a brick-and-mortar school. It's exciting to see that we're meeting a need that hasn't been met before in utilizing this technology. The technology is awesome. I'm amazed each day at the new things I learn."

Andy Opsahl  |  Staff Writer