Oregon’s legislature is again considering bills that would affect K-12 students’ access to online education. While virtual charter schools (public schools operated by non-profit organizations that provide a full-time online education for K-12 kids) are valuable and worth protecting, it seems that our elected officials are missing the forest for the trees.
The most exciting potential for online education to advance K-12 learning is not in the full-time online education model, although that is an essential option. Rather, part-time and the blended learning approach hold the greatest promise to rapidly improve Oregon’s educational opportunities. Part-time learning allows students enrolled in a regular brick-and-mortar public school to enroll in one or more online courses. Blended learning combines face-to-face teaching with online curriculum.
The House Education Committee has heard three bills this session that would affect online education: One simply would end enrollment caps for virtual charter schools. Another, inspired by an OEA recommendation, essentially would end virtual charter schools and replace them with a public (i.e., unionized) online option. The third, House Bill 3201, which has the most momentum, carries some oppressive rules that would limit competition, but also would open up online options to more families. HB 2301 would:
- Generally end enrollment caps on statewide virtual charter schools and allow students to transfer to out-of-district statewide virtual charters without getting their local district’s permission. However, once three percent of a district’s students are attending a virtual charter, the district could refuse to allow additional students to transfer, as long as the district offered another full-time online option. Parents could appeal transfer denials to the State Board of Education.
- Decrease how much the state would compensate a virtual school for providing education to a regular student. The current bill provides for 80% of state ADMw (that is, 80% of the state’s per-student funding), but that is fortunately likely to increase, according to insiders.
- Limit the number of statewide K-12 virtual charter school providers to three, thereby limiting families’ online educational options and competition among providers. This doesn’t make any sense, unless you simply dislike competition and prefer monopolies or oligopolies.
- Open up greater opportunities for kids across Oregon to enroll in public part-time online options once programs are approved by the ODE. The programs would be created by districts or ESDs and would be available to students in any school district.
This bill is yet another “mixed bag” that should be improved to maximize options and quality of online programs. Obviously, the number of virtual charter schools should not be limited. Also, the bill should be altered to allow students to attend existing charter schools (virtual or regular) part-time, provided that the virtual schools agree to accommodate part-time students. Nonetheless, the bill would open up more opportunities for students to enroll in full- or part-time online options. This couldn’t come soon enough.
In Oregon, 75% of schools do not offer Advanced Placement or IB classes in all core subjects (reading, math, science and social studies), according to the College Board. Oregon lags well behind the national average in this respect. Even worse, one-fourth of U.S. high schools do not offer advanced classes, according to Michael Horn, a co-author of Disrupting Class. In other words, one in four U.S. high schools do not offer chemistry, physics, algebra II, Calculus or even honors English.
At the same time, many of Oregon’s schools have faced budget cuts during the current economic trouble. Even in the midst of budget cuts, how can schools increase opportunities for students, allowing more kids to reach their academic potential? By giving power back to parents to choose programs beyond their local district school. This should extend beyond the classic “take it or leave it” approach, by allowing kids to choose to remain in their local public school while still having access to classes that aren’t offered locally.
Online education programs are already making a wide array of courses available to kids across the country while keeping costs low. Programs like Florida’s Virtual School have allowed thousands of kids attending regular public schools to enroll in effective advanced courses, as well as in rudimentary courses designed to help students catch up with their peers. The beauty of these online programs is not only accessibility, but also that they can be personalized, allowing students to work at their own pace and to spend more time on lessons that they struggle with or that interest them more.
For these same reasons, full-time online charter schools have excelled in Oregon. In 2005, Oregon’s first virtual charter school opened. By 2009 (when the legislature capped the schools’ enrollment), more than 4,000 students attended online charter schools, with many more asking for the opportunity. Oregon’s kids deserve more options, not fewer. Creating more effective educational opportunities does not require increased spending, but it does require smarter spending and flexibility.
Lending Superman a Hand
By Darla Romfo
The award-winning documentary Waiting for “Superman” (2010 Sundance Film Festival) captures many of the deficiencies in our public education system with tear-jerking accuracy. It is a good movie, but it doesn’t go far enough in arguing for better educational choices for America’s children.
Director Davis Guggenheim and several of the experts he interviews argue that charter schools have finally figured out how to educate poor inner-city kids who have scored below their more affluent peers for years. But actually there were schools doing a great job long before charters came along. Some are low-cost parochial and faith-based schools, and others are just independent private schools operating in the inner city. They get very little attention, but they are doing a good job of educating some of our most at-risk kids.
Last summer, over 4,700 kids were on waiting lists hoping to attend an Oregon charter school, according to a report released today by Cascade Policy Institute. Charter schools are public schools run by private non-profit organizations.
Most of Oregon’s charter schools have waiting lists. Some blame charter schools, but it is politicians and bureaucrats who have kept kids waiting.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 5, 2011
Contact: Christina Martin
Cascade Policy Institute
3,600 Oregon students Hoping for charter school SLOTS
PORTLAND – A report released today by Cascade Policy Institute shows that over 3,600 kids are on waiting lists to attend one of Oregon’s charter schools and explains why lists are long.
The study, Waiting for Choice: Charter Schools, Waiting Lists and Obstacles to Expanding Educational Opportunities for Oregon’s Kids, investigated demand for charter school options in Oregon and obstacles to increasing enrollment capacity.
by Steve Buckstein
The movie Waiting for “Superman” is this year’s An Inconvenient Truth. Produced by the same man, it lets Americans come face-to-face with students condemned to a terrible public education unless they are lucky enough to literally win a charter school seat in a public lottery.
On its own, the movie will create devastatingly negative publicity for failing public schools. However, it is accompanied by the recent announcement that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will donate $100 million to help improve the notoriously bad Newark, New Jersey public school system. Zuckerberg says he’s giving the money because he believes in Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Two of Cascade’s research associates, Olivia Wolcott and Rebecca Steele, advocated fewer regulations and a more open enrollment rule for virtual charter schools, as part of an hour of public testimony heard by the board at the June 24 meeting.
State Board Continues Debating Virtual Charter School Enrollment Cap
by Olivia Wolcott and Christina Martin
On June 24, the Oregon State Board of Education met to further discuss agenda items including the issue of virtual charter schools. Virtual charter schools have been on the Board’s agenda since the legislature passed House Bill 3660 in February 2010. HB 3660 instructed the State Board of Education to “develop a proposed governance model for virtual public schools, including virtual public charter schools,” and “review the appropriate levels and methods of funding for virtual public schools, including virtual public charter schools” (HB 3660, Section 9.2). A work group met May 27 and prepared a “straw proposal” that the entire Board examined during the June 24 meeting.
State Board of Education Continues to Look at Virtual Charter School Issue
By Olivia Wolcott and Christina Martin
At its May 21 meeting, the Oregon State Board of Education discussed the issue of virtual charter schools, specifically Oregon Virtual Academy (ORVA), after hearing testimony from ORVA parents. The Board will continue its discussion on Thursday, June 24, when they will accept further public testimony and review proposals to address the issues raised in the May 21st meeting.
Click Continue Reading to view the Board’s Response