As New Jersey moves closer to approving its first virtual charter schools, the objections are starting to pile up:
- KendalJames highlights the drain that these cyber charters would be on public schools, and the questionable past of the private, for-profit company behind them.
- Deb Cornavaca of SOSNJ makes the case that ACTING Commissioner Cerf can't act unilaterally to approve these schools, which have poor records of academic performance.
- Yours truly explains the problems with cheating inherent in virtual schools, and wonders why we are plowing ahead with this scheme without taking the time to consider to public commentary.
- I also document how New Jersey already provides an on-line option for costs that are far less than those proposed by the applicants for virtual charters.
- A coalition of groups as diverse as the NJEA, the Education Law Center, the New Jersey School Boards Association, the NAACP, and the Latino Institute has come together to insist that the Legislature first address these concerns and others before granting charters to any on-line schools.
And yet, despite all of these concerns, questions, and doubts, the on-line education industry is waging a campaign to shove virtual charter applications through the application pipeline with as little scrutiny as possible:
Earlier this week, the Star-Ledger published an op-ed by Michael Horn, Executive Director of the Innosight Institute, urging the quick approval of these virtual charters. Innosight receives a great deal of funding from the Gates Foundation and others to promote "blended learning," their term for cyberized instruction.
Horn followed up with another piece for Forbes:
Yesterday I, along with my colleague, Innosight Institute Education research assistant Charity Eyre, authored an op-ed titled "State has virtually no reason to not give online charter schools a shot" in The Star-Ledger in New Jersey about a proposed moratorium on virtual charter schools in the state. In the piece, we discuss New Jersey's Assembly Bill 3105, which would block approval of virtual charters for one year while a study of the general effectiveness of full-time online schooling is conducted. The bill has passed the Assembly and is currently up for consideration in the Senate.
Our ultimate takeaway? Policymakers' fear of virtual school is unfounded, and this legislation would only block innovation in New Jersey to the detriment of its students. Full-time virtual schools are one small but important part of transforming our current education system from today's monolithic state that standardizes teaching for students into a student-centric one that can customize for each child.
New Jersey policymakers are too concerned about "on-average" research and should focus instead on providing the right options for every individual student. A moratorium would only deny the state's students an important option for yet another year. [emphasis mine]
Yes, you read that right: according to Horn, it's not fair for New Jersey lawmakers to be concerned about the abysmal track record for virtual charters, because they might be OK for some kids - maybe.
This is, of course, ridiculous. The state constitution guarantees a "thorough and efficient system of free public schools"; there is more than enough evidence to cast doubt on the thoroughness and efficiency of virtual charters. It would be the height of irresponsibility for the Legislature to allow these schools to drain millions of dollars from existing public schools without a through vetting of on-line schools and the contractors that provide them.
Horn himself admits that states all over the nation are putting the brakes on paying for virtual charters until they've had a chance to look at the evidence:
This is an issue that doesn't just affect students in New Jersey. Policymakers in many states are expressing fear of virtual charters for a variety of reasons. A superior court judge in North Carolina recently ruled against the establishment of a virtual charter school after many expressions of worry about funding and effectiveness. Bruce Friend framed the issue well in a recent piece for Getting Smart. Last month in Maine, applications from two virtual charters were held for the 2013-14 cycle because of commissioners' concerns about school governance. There has been similar dithering in Georgia.
Policymakers' anxiety is misplaced. States are right to be concerned about how to best regulate virtual charter schools-they ought to measure their results based on the growth of individual students and shut down poorly performing ones. But blocking or delaying the option of full-time online schooling because of a fear of lack of research isn't the right tact to take.
Actually, that is exactly the right tact [sic] to take! Research is exactly what is required right now. And that research should inform the final decision of the Legislature - the only body empowered to make the decision - on virtual charters.
No virtual charters should be approved unless and until the Legislature makes a full study of them and approves changes in statute governing their regulation.