This is at the moment a peculiarly United States of America debate, but it is almost certain to spill over into other countries. This is a topic well worth following.
What are cyber schools? Well, this term can be used for any form of online teaching at the high school level, and this has been going on for a number of years. But more recently some US states with Republican-controlled legislatures, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, have been introducing bills that encourage and support the establishment of cyber charter schools. Opponents argue that cyber charter schools are essentially privatizing k-12 online education. In fact it’s worse than that because it is state-subsidized privatization, since the state funding for any student who moves to a cyber charter school follows that student.
The argument appears to be not so much about online learning, as about using online learning as a back door to state subsidies for privatized k-12 education. If the critics are correct, it is also a peculiarly American way of taking a good development and completely ruining it.
However, it’s difficult for me to separate out the extent to which the opposition is against online learning in principle in the k-12 sector period, or whether it’s the way that online learning is being delivered through charter schools in Michigan and Pennsylvania. And are charter schools really privately run? Are they for profit? Neither of these is clear to me, looking over the fence at our neighbours. There is no doubt though that state support for cyber schools is directly linked to cuts in state funding to the k-12 system in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Also we should not be too complacent here in Canada. I was a great supporter of the BC government’s move to online learning in the k-12 sector several years ago,but in recent years I have been hearing complaints from teachers that online learning is increasingly being used as a way to save money, with large student to teacher ratios, poor or non-existent instructional design, and lack of training for online instructors in online teaching. The BC government has an excellent set of standards for k-12 online teaching, but is it living up to those standards – and who is checking this?
If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, we also need it to safeguard the reputation of online learning.
I’d really like to hear from US readers regarding their views on cyber charter schools.
I’d also like to hear from BC teachers about BC’s k-12 online system, as I’ve been getting mixed messages recently. Are the published standards being followed by school boards?
Mitchell, J. (2012) Bill would permit virtual charter schools in state Clarion Ledger.com, February 11 (most detailed reporting of pros and cons)
Detroit Free Press (2012) House education panel OKs bid to expand cyber charter schools, February 8
Learning Matters (2012) Is online learning beneficial for students? February 8
Hanover, N. (2011) Outsourcing education: the rise of virtual schools, World Socialist Web Site, August 31
Other suggestions for reading on this topic will be welcome.