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Here in Texas we have virtual schooling provided by various charter school districts.  

The sky didn’t fall.

Schools are not emptying out all over the state like a Randian fantasy.  On the contrary, Texas is busting out all over.   Every school is stuffed near to the brim, and we are building new schools.   The virtual charter schools actually represent a relatively low percentage of overall student population.    

There is a huge demand for more flexible schooling options for families.  Virtual schooling and other progressive educational options are not going to go away.     In fact, there is going to be greater and greater pressure to give families more options and more control over how and when our kids get educated.    And, states have a huge demand for turnkey solutions and cost efficiencies.   So, charters are not going to go away.  Rather, we will see states contract for more and more specialized services that they might have built from scratch in the past, simply because, in the past, there weren't readymade solutions available out in the marketplace.  Now, there are.  It's easier, it's faster, and the risk is lower than building something from scratch since the same solution has already been deployed successfully in other areas.   There are risks and drawbacks as there are with every solution, but these can be managed.

Michigan is proposing legislation to make it possible to roll out virtual schooling district in their state.   While there are many concerns over this legislation, it deserves consideration.  

More below the fold

Virtual Schools operate in a grey zone between public schools and homeschooling.   In fact, since it demands so much parental involvement and supervision, it is more of an alternative to home-schooling, than an alternative to brick-and-mortar schools.   Few parents want to take on the added responsibilities and extra work unless they have a really good reason.   In the past, when public brick-and-mortar schools did not meet the needs of children, families were forced to homeschool.  Now we have another alternative, virtual schools.   The State of Texas has very little requirements for homeschooling.  It requires that there be a curriculum, but does not say what that curriculum should be, nor how many hours a student must attend, or very little else.    This freedom serves to protect civil liberties.   But, most families don’t really want that much freedom.  They really want their kid to graduate with the same level of education as other kids.   With a virtual schooling option, the curriculum is aligned with State Standards, there is a defined work schedule, teachers monitor the student’s participation and progress and provide intervention when needed, the student’s educational level is regularly assessed with standardized state testing, the student receives actual school credit, and the student’s progress is maintained at standard grade level so that they would be at a comparable educational level to transfer easily back to a brick-and-mortar school.

When I asked parents in my virtual school why they were there, the number one reason was special needs.   Yes, brick-and-mortar schools offer “special needs programs”, but they don’t work very well for many students, particularly high functioning students.   When a child needs control over their schedule, frequent rest breaks, and a low sensory stimulating environment, such as kids with fibro or ADD, public schools often fail miserably.  Parents find that even services that are supposed to be offered by IEP plans are often not administered.  Parents often struggle with schools that will not give medications on the prescribed schedule, or at all, even when the issue has been raised repeatedly.    In addition, these programs often suffer from the “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome, where a bevy of teachers, counselors, school nurses, doctors, principals, etc. all compete to create utter chaos.  They may be well intentioned, but they tend to be very proud of their own “expert opinions” (even though persons with educational degrees know little about many medical disabilities) and disinclined to listen to the people who are actually living with the problem, the parents and the child.  After all, a parent who lives with the child’s disability 24 hours a day is not considered an expert, and is often considered more of an obstacle to be overcome by the “experts”.   The main problem, though, is that schools just don’t have a way to provide an environment where the student has control over the timing of work and rest breaks, or the low sensory stimulating environment that is required.   They don’t have the facilities and they don’t have the staff, and they don’t have the resources to deal with these students.  So, they don’t.  They get a bunch of papers signed, and then try to stuff the kids right back in the same classroom, with the bright lights, loud noises, non-ergonomic chairs, noxious smells, and huge crowds bumping into each other, and pretend that they fixed the problem.  

They didn’t.

Virtual schools, and other programs that offer parents flexible options, accomplish two things.  They give parents and kids more tools to solve their own problems, and by letting families solve their own problems, they reduce the stress and demands on public schools which would otherwise be required to put on the three ring circus described above, one student at a time, to deal with special needs that they do not actually have the facilities or resources or experience to deal with.

I've seen it proposed that maybe we should make virtual schooling available only for special needs.  The problem is that we cannot anticipate all of the issues that virtual schooling can solve, and introducing these arbitrary barriers between families and public schooling resources simply makes it that much more difficult for famlies to address their own issues and find solutions that fit their needs.   They can see the solution right in front of them, but they can't get to it because of some stupid rule made by people who never anticipated their situation.

Virtual schooling is a specialized type of schooling different from brick-and-mortar in infrastructure.  Any State or School district attempting to develop a virtual schooling system would be starting from scratch.  They would need the technological infrastructure, new facilities for teaching staff, distribution centers for the supplies, programs for distribution of teaching materials direct to student, and much more.     OR, they could contract with a business that specializes in virtual schooling, and already has all of this built out.    

There are concerns, of course, with using a charter program.  One of the biggest concerns is that charters have been used in some States by the “Good Old Boy” system to divert public funding for the profit of unscrupulous individuals.    This objection, however, can also apply to public school systems.   Wherever there is a lack of adequate oversight, officials can make sweetheart deals and tap those school funds through anything from janitorial contracts to busing contracts to real estate deals.   For instance, here in Texas, politicians set up “economic development funds” and diverted public education money from schools to concrete plants.   No charters involved.   So, charters are just another tool for States and Districts, and they can be used wisely to the benefit of the school district, or unwisely to the detriment of our schools or the profit of criminals.   That issue is not about charters.  It is about proper oversight and fiscal accountability, and it can be solved.

Another concern, of course, is the public funding of teachers who are non-union.   I agree that it would make sense in many ways for States to use unionized teaching staff in virtual schools, but for the state to manage the staff, they still need to build out that infrastructure, and then they will need other infrastructure that may be contracted out, and managing it all separately does add another layer of complexity that makes it harder for states to get to the finish line to get the solution rolled out.    The fact that charter virtual schools are a turnkey solution is a big attraction to states trying to get the project done.    The “turnkey” approach is, I believe, the biggest reason that states are using charters for virtual schooling.    Theoretically, it seems like the employees could unionize if they chose.  I suspect that virtual teachers might need to organize separately, anyway, because some of the labor issues for a virtual teacher will be very different from brick and mortar teachers.

The bottom line is that greater flexibility is needed in our schools.  Virtual schools are one effective solution that is addressing that need.   States have logistical challenges in providing these services, and charter schools offer solutions that have been demonstrated to work.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Virtual schooling is not a progressive solution. (6+ / 0-)

    It's part of the reform privatization effort and offers huge, easy profits for companies like K12 inc. Don't be fooled.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 01:12:14 PM PST

    •  Virtual = virtual. charter = private. (0+ / 0-)

      Virtual schools are not a privatization effort.   Charter schools are a privitization effort.   But, virtual schools could be created as a purely state or local run institution, which would not be privitization at all.

      However, it is a huge challenge for a state to build out the infrastructure for a virtual school from scratch, and it is inefficient when one already exists that can be re-used.   Ideally, the federal government would take up this task, build out the infrastructure, and make it available to that states.   However, this has not happened.  So, the use of charters is the most efficient solution at this time.  

      It would really be great if the federal goverment would pick up the ball.  On the other hand, charter schools can be pressured to change more quickly than something created by the feds.

      Something to think about.

      •  In Chicago (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jfromga, DFWmom

        the mayor is targeting poorly run schools and closing them.  Shortly after the infrastructure is right there for a brand new charter school.

        This is why the teachers union went on strike and won.

      •  I understand the issue pretty well, (6+ / 0-)

        I watch it closely. Virtual schooling is a scam, K12 "schools " are being shut down all over the country for poor performance.

        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

        by Azazello on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 01:24:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is not for everyone (0+ / 0-)

          This problem is more due to the nature of virtual schooling rather than a problem specific to charters.  States will face these same problems if they run them directly.

          You can't deny kids access to a public school, so any kid can enroll.

          However, not everyone can succeed in a virtual schooling environment.  Families don't figure that out until they try it.  It's a significant commitment.  

          It's sort of like offering international baccalaureate or technical school.  Not all kids are going to be cut out for it.

          That doesn't mean there is not a definite need for it.

      •  Up above in your diary Virtual and Charter (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        seemed to be interchangable.

        What is the difference between virtual and charter?

        •  virtual/charter (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Yoshimi, gramofsam1

          "Virtual" means learning through an online "virtual" system.   Virtual schooling could be built and operated by a state, so not all virtual schools have to be charter schools.  

          "Charter" means that the state or local school district contracts with a corporation to provide the service.   Charter schools can operate as brick and mortar schools, or as virtual schools.    So, not all charter schools are virtual schools.

          I was talking about my own experience with a charter virtual school.

      •  virtual schools proposed in Mich (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        maybeeso in michigan, DFWmom

        would be run by private corps through outsourcing. not by the state. You don't known our governor or our tea bag legislature like we do.

    •  Power to the People (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The ability for families to schedule their education when and where they choose is progressive.  Just ask any of the families who are doing it, instead of just the people who are disparaging it and trying to take it away from those who need it.

  •  Please show us how charter (3+ / 0-)

    schools are performing compared to public schools.

    We are finding in Chicago that the charter schools are performing as poorly as the public schools which is sad because these new schools are draining funds away from public schools that are already hanging on by a thread.

    The charter schools that do perform better than the public schools happen to also be selective of their students.  This is the old solution used by the city Catholic Schools.

    Charter Schools are for profit.  And how do they profit?  Cheap labor and underfunded schools.

    •  Now that I know that there is a difference (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      between "charter" and "virtual," how do virtual students perform in relation to brick and mortar students.

      There has to be a study...

      •  there is no research; (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Azazello, DFWmom

        And I'll posit right here and now that virtual school staring at s screen, going without face to face communication, learning, and socializing, is a naked emperor for 90% of kids.

        Let's not be magpies and assume that Internet|computer is the shiny new exciting answer for most kids. It ain't.

        •  No, it's most certainly not for most people (0+ / 0-)

          No one, not states, not the virtual charter, not virtual schooling families, no one is going to claim this is for most kids.   But, school systems provide many services that are not for "most kids".  All specialty services are like that.  We have Suzuki Strings, International Baccalaureate, gifted and talented, dropout prevention programs, disabled services, all kinds of programs to meet a specific subset of kids with special needs, and this is another one.

          What is is, though, is an alternative to save kids from dropping out of the public school system entirely into homeschooling, more than for drawing kids out of public schools.  My child was already out the door.   The only choice was what next, and it was looking like homeschooling.   No out-of-home option can handle her physical limitations.   Most parents don't want the hassle, and most kids don't want to be cooped up with their parents or separated from their friends, but for some desperate families, virtual is a much better option than going full homeschool.   And, full homeschool is likely to consist of a lot of computerized material, anyway.

          As far as "staring at the screen", there are book lessons and projects, and interactive live sessions with teachers, both homerooms, and in every subject, and tutoring.  There are also frequent field trips for social interaction.   Although, my child has a thriving pack of neighborhood friends, and gets plenty of social interaction.    Full homeschool is not going to provide these interactions and structures without significant effort on the part of parents.

      •  K12 results are abysmal (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Azazello, DFWmom

        Tennessee's K12, Inc. Virtual School Receives Lowest Score Possible and $16,000,000 a Year to Pay for It
        Last week even TFA lawyer and Commissioner of Education in TN had described the for-profit K-12, Inc.'s Tennessee operation as "unacceptable," which is no surprise to anyone who has followed K-12's checkered history, which began when gambling addict, Bill Bennett, leveraged his influence with the Bushies to cart away $14 million in discretionary federal grants to start his online empire.  Bennett resigned in 2005, but the company has continued to expand into 30 states.

        Tennessee newspapers reported last week that the Tennessee franchise, which is run through the impoverished Union County Schools in East Tennessee, scored the lowest possible score on the state testing scale: 1 out of 5. That represents the bottom 10 percent in a state that is in bottom 20 percent nationally on NAEP

        In July of this year, a new research study was released that demonstrated what a waste of money K-12 represents for a cash-strapped state like Tennessee.  The summary:

        • Math scores for K12 Inc.’s students are 14 to 36 percent lower than scores for other students in the states in which the company operates schools.
        • Only 27.7 percent of K12 Inc.’s schools reported meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards in 2010-11, compared to 52% for brick-and-mortar schools in the nation as a whole.

        • Student attrition is exceptionally high in K12 Inc. and other virtual schools. Many families appear to approach the virtual schools as a temporary service: Data in K12 Inc.’s own school performance report indicate that 31% of parents intend to keep their students enrolled for a year or less, and more than half intend to keep their students enrolled for two years or less.

        • K12 Inc.’s schools spend more on overall instructional costs than comparison schools – including the cost of computer hardware and software, but noticeably less on teachers’ salaries and benefits.

        • K12 Inc. spends little or nothing on facilities and maintenance, transportation, and food service

        .• K12 Inc. enrolls students with disabilities at rates moderately below public school averages, although this enrollment has been increasing, but the company spends half as much per pupil as charter schools overall spend on special education instruction and a third of what districts spend on special education instruction.

        Here's another good article.

        Fun fact: for everyone out there who bemoans the high salaries paid to superintendents, K12's CEO makes $5 million a year.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 03:55:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, some schools can be bad (0+ / 0-)
          Math scores for K12 Inc.’s students are 14 to 36 percent lower than scores for other students in the states in which the company operates schools.
          K12 is virtual schooling software used by charters, and I believe K12 runs some schools themselves, but don't get K12 confused with other virtual charter schools, or virtual charter schools using K12 infrastructure.

          Don't forget, there is still a school administration component, and curriculums are defined by the state.   When you compare K12 results in one state to K12 results in another state, assuming they are run by the same charter company, you are seeing differences in local school administration, and also in state curriculums.    

          Also, virtual schooling is relatively new, and is in a pilot phase.   Anytime new techniques and technologies are introduced, there is a steep learning curve during which time the tools and processes have to adjusted to improve performance.  Just as they are in brick and mortar schools.  It is an ongoing process in every school.  Brick and mortar schools have been around for years, so they have an advantage.   That doesn't mean we should not be developing best practices for virtual learning.  Virtual learning is here to stay.  We need to learn how to excel in it.

          In addition, statistics can be misleading, because K12 students are a subset of overall school population.  Comparing home learner students, is like comparing results of homebound students, and comparing results of gifted and talented, and comparing free or reduced lunch students.  Anytime you compare a subset to the overall population, you have other factors affecting the results.

          In addition, there is hidden information.  My daughter was IEP in the public school.  The flexibility of the virtual school means that I don't have to get an IEP plan with the virtual school.  So, in brick and mortar, my child was disabled, but in virtual school, she's not.  So, you may see less "officially" disabled kids in virtual school, who are really disabled, and you are comparing them to non-disabled kids in another school.

          Many families appear to approach the virtual schools as a temporary service: Data in K12 Inc.’s own school performance report indicate that 31% of parents intend to keep their students enrolled for a year or less, and more than half intend to keep their students enrolled for two years or less.
          If K12 can get families through a crisis, that's a good thing.
          •  These are K12 Inc run schools (0+ / 0-)

            it is not counting data for schools that are buying K12 and then putting students on it.

            K12 is making a lot of money, producing a mediocre product, and getting terrible results. That's our money. It's not OK.

            I'm not aware of any K12 schools getting excellent results, and the parents I've talked to who have worked with it describe it as merely adequate, less rigorous than the public school. In particular, it seems to be quite inadequate for gifted, self-directed kids... which are exactly the kids you'd expect to be best served by such a system.

            A good, non-profit, common core say, virtual school system I think would be beneficial. Let's fund that instead.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 09:40:44 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  And I recommended this diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Azazello, DFWmom

    Not because I agree with it but because we need to have a serious debate about charter schools and their negative impact on public schools.

    •  Charter schools are popular even with Dem pols... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ....b/c they are much cheaper to operate.

      Property taxes, which comprise almost all of public school funding, has stagnated.  And they've stagnated because many cities have DRAMATICALLY increased property tax rates.  In Detroit, you pay as much as 8% a year of market value in property taxes.  In other cities, it's significantly more than even five years ago.  (Without the significant increase in property tax rates, property tax receipts would have declined by the same amount as property value: in excess of 40%.)

      This against a backdrop of stagnant/declining private sector wages.

      Something's gotta give, and something is giving.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

      by PatriciaVa on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 02:16:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A "turn-key approach"...??? (6+ / 0-)

    No knowledge necessary!  Just plug it into the hard-drive and hit install, and you'll be edjumikating in no time!

    and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

    by ban48 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 01:24:41 PM PST

    •  I think we should learn from the past (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Not  turn-key but use good ideas that have worked and do not re-invent the wheel in every case.

      •  Good ideas that have worked: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        1) Involved parents
        2) Funded schools
        3) Small class size
        4) Teachers

        I could do a minor word-swap and turn this diary into a promo for contact management software or internet connection management software from the dot-com bubble:  Our (fill-in-the-blank) software is a turn-key solution using proven methods to increase efficiency and throughput!  We've done the hard stuff so you don't have to!

        and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

        by ban48 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 06:56:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, it does take a lot of knowledge (0+ / 0-)

      Actually, knowledge is required.  That's why it is a benefit when companies have an infrastructure for teaching online, which is different from teaching in brick and mortar, and the technology has already been developed.  This is a huge undertaking requiring a great deal of knowledge and experience.  And, the how-to for distribution of class materials direct to students.  

      This knowledge is what states are buying.  States don't want to learn all these lessons the hard way, and cement their mistakes into expensive projects to build things that don't work.   By buying a process that's already developed, they can try it, learn from it, and improve it, without making much huger, costly mistakes.

  •  It seems to me that virtual schooling may be a (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jrooth, CoExistNow, gramofsam1, elfling, DFWmom

    better fit for gifted, self-directed students.  

    But it should still be handled through the public schools--not by these privateers who are in it just to skim millions away from public education.

    If the plutocrats begin the program, we will end it. -- Eugene Debs.

    by livjack on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 01:28:45 PM PST

    •  Yeah, it sounds a lot like (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Montessori school without a teacher being the room.

    •  Interacting with other students is one of the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      great gifts of public education which is highly advantageous to exactly the sort of gifted children people are always bringing up. Whenever I hear parent say something to the effect of "My child's so brilliant s/he's too good for public school," I think it has more to do with the vanity of the parents than the ability of the students.

      I would like to see more challenging classes for gifted students, especially in areas like math and foreign languages where an early exposure has been shown to be advantageous, but I'd like to see it done in a more general school setting. There's a lot to be said for learning how to get along with a wide variety of other people.

      I support parents' right to homeschool their children because I beleive there will always be situations in which children fall through the cracks and, ultimately, I think parents have a right to do what they think is best for their children. That doesn't by any means mean that I think homeschooling is best for most children, just that parents have a right to do it.

  •  My concern is also this (3+ / 0-)

    We seem to have a problem in this country with remote campuses for college (e.g. University of Phoenix) and this seems to be the model for "virtual" schools.

    How do you keep the scammers out?  

  •  interesting diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You have some good points and it sounds like a good idea for children with ADD or other particular medical issues.  I think people get turned off by the term "charter school" but your idea is much more and seems to be for the home school base.

  •  We're going to need ... (5+ / 0-)

    ... a boatload of alternatives once Gov. Snyder and his teabagger base in the Michigan legislature are done destroying the tax base that supports public schools and handing the money over to his rich pals.

    And that is precisely what is happening.

    Conditions in Michigan are vastly different than those in Texas. We're broke; you're not.

    We've been steadily destroying our public schools via neglect and economic hardship for years. Snyder's proposal simply accelerates the process and ensures fat paydays for the operators of his non-public "schools."

  •  Using Texas as a standard is a very poor idea (3+ / 0-)

    It has the fourth worst literacy rate in the country.  Not what I want for my beloved state of Michigan.  And yes to Megisi's comment about this simply fattening the wallet of for-profit operators.

    No thank you.

    •  Poverty (0+ / 0-)

      Texas has a huge impoverished population, and an enormous population of immigrants who do not know English, or who don't know it very well.   But, is that the fault of the school system?

      My school district here is Texas is very good, even though we have a special classification due to the very large population of free and reduced lunch, and we also serve the disabled kids for the district in that school.   We have Suzuki Strings and International Baccaulaureate, and "excellent" ratings.     The poorer districts perform much more poorly.  

      It's sort of a picture of the nation as a whole.   Poor districts don't do so well, because the kids start so far behind, and are dragged down every day.   TeacherKen mentioned this problem in a recent diary, and pointed out that teachers can't fully compensate for this.

      Texas is so huge, we have a huge number of hugely impoverished areas.   So, we rank lower.   Houston, for example, was a popular destination for survivors of the Katrina disaster.  They have nothing, and they have stayed in Houston, and Houston is busy building new schools to accomodate them.

      •  You know, it is very nice that you care so much (0+ / 0-)

        about your state.  I understand.

        And of course poverty and immigration impact the quality of education.  I was however, quite surprised to learn that Texas ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of income. Median income is 25th on the chart I saw, which is of course, a good thing.

        However, as of an article from 2011, Texas ranks 47th in per pupil funding and I understand that may have been cut even more.

        More to the point, I absolutely oppose the for-profit privatization of any school systems.  We just defeated vulture capitalism in this country, I absolutely do not want vulture educators taking over the schools.  


        •  dipping their toes in (0+ / 0-)

          Texas does not have a state income tax, and has a totally screwed up system for funding schools.      As far as "caring so much about my state", I reference my state because that is what I know about, and I am familiar with my state's issues.  No income tax.   Underfunded schools funded by property taxes, so that poor neighborhoods have poor schools.   Courts trying to fix the problem.   We invented the ever-popular "RobinHood plan for school funding".   Nevertheless, in my area, we have a great district.  In Dallas, they are a huge, huge mess.  It's spotty.

          I want a good virtual school system.   If we can do that without contracting with a third party, then great.  However, it is expensive and time-consuming to re-invent the wheel, and the whole time that you are painstakingly carving your wheel from a block of stone, other people are racing around on previously invented wheels.  And, if it turns out you screwed up your wheel design, you have a huge investment in a wheel that doesn't work.

          That's why states are turning to charters for virtual schools.   If we could have an alternate method, such as feds funding a project to invent the infrastructure for virtual school, instead of a corporation like K12 doing it, then states would have that option.   However, money is tight.  Corporations are willing to gamble the money, investing and hoping they can sell it.   The feds have other things they are focused on.  States have less money to invest in huge projects.    So, that's why charters are ruling this industry.   Low startup costs.

          Is the answer to just not allow public school kids the option for virtual schools?   If so, then I am vehemently against that, because this is the only option that meets my child's needs, and for the other families like me who turned to virtual schools when public brick-and-mortar did not work.   Otherwise, we are forced out of the system entirely, and are homeschooling.  That's not fair.  I'm paying my taxes, and my child deserves a state funded education, too.

          For states, there is no other fast, affordable way to get a virtual schooling option out to students at this time.   I do believe it should be possible for states to contract the hardware and other infrastructure (like materials distribution to students) from a business like K12, and build out the teaching infrastructure as a state run institution.  That is more complicated, though, and takes more time and investment, and I believe states want to get some experience in this before they know if they want to commit to it that deeply, and they also have a need for this service right now.     I would not be surprised if states might tend to move in that direction as they get more experience with virtual learning.  

          You have to remember this is a new solution that is just rolling out across the country, and states are not diving in at the deep end.  They are dipping their toes in.   It may be available across the state in Texas, but enrollment is limited to a certain number of pupils.   Anyone can enroll, but when they are full, they are full, like any other school.    Only a measured portion of funding has been committed.

          That's one thing that I think people misunderstand.   They think that this is replacing public schools.  It's not.   Virtual schools support a small subset of students with special needs, not necessarily medical -- possibly family needs like travelling or child actors, etc.

          There are several issues:
          - virtual schooling doesn't work well for a lot of kids, so should we not offer it to everyone even though it solves problems for some students that they could find no other way to solve?
          - if states don't provide virtual schooling through charters, how are they going to get it done?   How much more time will it take to set it up?   How much more will startup cost?    Is it higher risk to build a solution from scratch when there are solutions already operating in other states, that may not be perfect, but could be built on and improved?  

          From an idealistic standpoint, I agree about concerns about charters  But, from my experience in business, I know that we concentrate on our core competencies, and contract with other businesses who specialize, because in many situations, we end up with a better result that way.    That's why the state doesn't manufacture it's own buses.  It buys them and uses them.  

          As far as measuring performance, I have huge concern when people quote statistics about how bad certain schools are.   TeacherKen has discussed some of them.   One is poverty, and as I mentioned, we have many pockets of poverty which are not reflected in your statistics about "median income", and our school funding system is designed to suppress school funding in areas where income is low.  

          It is also disingenuous to compare a subset of students to an average of students.  What results do you get when you compare gifted and talented students to the average?  Or, when you compared disabled students to the overall average?   Or, ESL students to the average.  Well, you get similar discrepancies when you compare virtual learners to the average?  These statistics are comparing apples and oranges.  Virtual students are a unique population.  We need to compare virtual learners to other virtual learners.  

          There are differences in the student populations and the learning experience that are not adjusted for.   For one thing, as I've explained before, in my former school, my daughter was identified as special needs, and in her current virtual school, she is not.  So, this school is serving a "special needs student" but not getting credit for it, and PEOPLE ARE USING THIS ARGUMENT, THAT IT SERVES LESS SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS, AGAINST THAT SCHOOL.  What is really happening is that the nature of the learning environment gives us a chance to control the variables ourselves, so that we don't have to request special services from the State.  This has the potential to save the State money, and they know it and that's one reason why they want to roll out virtual learning.  However, that also means there are a lot of kids with fibro, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, ADD, ADHD, etc., who may not have requested accomdations, who are actually special needs but not identified as such, and who may skew the results lower, making it appear that the school is "underperforming" or "not serving special needs students".  

          There are also kids who were failing in brick-and-mortar schools, who transferrd to virtual as a last resort before dropping out, and are failing there, too.     So, there is a selection bias, in that more struggling kids are enrolling in the virtual than enroll (as a percentage of overall enrollment) in traditional public schools, and therefore outcomes also reflect this.   I don't know what is really going on with statistics, but I do know that there are Lies and Damn Statistics, and I can definitely see where truth is being misrepresented, and I suspect there are more cases where I don't know the background.

  •  I wonder (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    How many people are aware that virtual schools are already occurring and are more widespread than I'm comfortable with. I'm for virtual schooling if it can be done right. How's it often done wrong?

    Credit recovery classes, as an example. At a school I taught at, a student could come in and within weeks have completed enough computer classes to have received a full year's worth of credits in English or Science. They'd get signed off on by the instructors. They had almost no teacher or parental supervision in this process.

    I'm for good virtual schooling if we can achieve it. As someone who has worked on experimentation in conjunction with UC Berkley gauging test results and information acquisiotn, well designed virtual programs are difficult to get right. They're still a work in progress, right now. THe best we've nailed down have been in mathematics fields. Strangley, we're having much more difficulty with retention in history and english.

    BUt these virtual classes I've had experience with have little in terms of genuine retention rate, especially when you can blaze through a year's worth of credits in a few weeks. I'm more comfortable with this in the public school sense, which has stricter oversights. However, I've known charter schools that contract for a virtual classroom. Students show up, they blaze through credits in a few weeks, graduate, and then the spot gets filled up by a new student who pays for the year's tuition. Money in, profits up.

    by DAISHI on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 03:27:51 PM PST

    •  I would love to see a solid, quality (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      A-G accredited suite of online classes in California, even just ones that we can use with teacher supervision for credit recovery and for kids who are otherwise taking unusual paths. As far as I can tell (and I have looked!), this program does not exist, certainly not meeting the standard of quality, let alone being engaging enough for a typical high school student to complete without significant one-on-one coaching.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 04:02:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  No "blazing" allowed (0+ / 0-)

      That's not allowed in our virtual public charter school.   Students are required to have 180 days of attendance, same as brick and mortar schools, and must promote on the date designated on the school calendar.  Actually, my daughter find that the pace is very aggressive and keeps her on track.  She has three components of English, math, social studies, science, Spanish, Health and PE, as well Study Island for preparing for standardized tests, and periodic assessments in all subjects testing how much knowledge she is gaining as she progresses.   In addition, she has those online live interaction sessions for homeroom, and each of her subjects, and online live tutoring is available.

      It keeps us on our toes.

  •  I am not against virtual school options in theory (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    however, in practice, I'm not aware of any K-12 virtual school that is particularly successful ... when judged using the same metrics we use for traditional public schools.

    Reality is, as you say, it ends up being homeschooling, and relying on the parents to be the coach and enforcer.

    I don't see any value to the child in a virtual learning system below 3rd grade, which is where you'd expect them to be reading to learn.

    The payment options - where the state is paying approximately the same per student to a for-profit corporation as they are paying for a brick and mortar solution - set up all the wrong incentives.

    In isolation, an allowance to experiment with an option for online schools wouldn't be alarming in the way that this full package of obvious privatization initiatives has.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 03:44:26 PM PST

  •  I've worked with computer-based learning for (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Azazello, DFWmom

    years and years, both as an educator and as a student.

    It is not a replacement for a teacher, and never will be.

    An on-line teacher is not a teacher, and never will be.

    Using public dollars to pay for virtual schooling and calling it "education" is a travesty, and in my opinion it should be a felony.

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