Feb 3, 2023

Ph.D. Alum Investigates the Promises and Perils of the Virtual School System

Dr. Anne Jonas (Ph.D. ’21) returned to the I School on Monday, January 23, 2023 to present her dissertation, “Blank Slate, Freedom, Connection, and Accountability in U.S. Virtual Schools.”

Her research addresses the topic of virtual schools and their promises, precarious relationships with labor, and current challenges. “The main focus of my dissertation is looking at how diverse the experiences of virtual schooling can be, and really taking it seriously as something that has arisen in the context of the attacks on public school education,” Jonas said. 

She noted that virtual schools are often alternatives for those seeking to escape the perceived threats of traditional schooling (e.g. bullying), hoping to find a balance between their professional and personal lives, and wanting to focus on other subjects. However, rather than providing solutions to these problems, virtual schools often outsource many of the issues that school administration would be responsible for to individual teachers and families. These teachers no longer just educate, but are also expected to solve problems and serve as quasi-administration in these schools. 

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Jonas and her advisor Prof. Jenna Burrell at Commencement in May 2022 (Photo by Noah Berger)

Additionally, virtual schooling institutions are often pressured to show data-driven results to policymakers that adhere to state-wide traditional curricula. “We need to come up with new kinds of measures of how we can tell that virtual schools are working that actually start from the perspective of how virtual schools function,” Jonas explained, “My hope is that I can emphasize the role that teachers can play in those environments and think about how to support teachers, families, and students and push the developers of these platforms to come up with ways that respond to the needs of their users, and not just how schools prove themselves to the state.”

Dr. Jonas is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Michigan State University, where she focuses on what virtual schools can look like from the perspectives of people marginalized in traditional schools. 

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Dr. Anne Jonas (Photo credit: Destiny Evans)
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AI generated image based on dissertation title

Last updated:

February 1, 2023