Dithering and Delay in New Jersey Denies Students Important Schooling Options

By 07/18/2012

3 Comments | Print | NO PDF |

Last week 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.

Our research also shows that full-time virtual schooling will only ever be utilized by a small percentage of students. Worrying about its impact to the point of delaying the opening of virtual charter schools, which provide an option that is critical for some students’ success, does not make sense.

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. States should encourage innovation in order to meet students’ individual needs and set up the regulatory environment that rewards providers for doing that well.

-Michael Horn

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Comment on this article
  • JayF says:

    So are you arguing that any educational innovation should be “given a shot” even if it flies in the face of both research and common sense? Studies have given the virtual schools low marks on student acheivement. Cyber charters don’t make sense except for the most self-disciplined of students. These students do well in traditional schools. For the rest, the government is paying a premium to for-profit corporations for the students to fail. Though I understand the importance of teaching and learning, another important role of school is to keep students safe during the day. Why should the state pay companies the standard per-student amount that is ear-marked for brick and mortar schools when they can’t fulfill this function?

    You seem to be arguing that the online charters should be “given a chance” so that the state can tweak its regulation practices. How many years and hundreds of students should NJ sacrifice so that corporations can develop their “product?” The idea that for-profits will market an online educational alternative that provides no real student supervision to the public has “tragic boondoggle” written all over it.

  • Michael B. Horn says:

    JayF — Not my argument at all. We know that virtual schools are an important option for many students for whom traditional schooling has not worked. There is plenty of evidence there–and it’s counterintuitively more often than you might expect for low income and minority students. We also know it does not work for everyone, or, as the piece says, the vast majority of people (it is not the right option for at least 90% I would argue). The argument is to regulate full-time virtual schooling based on student outcomes. And just so you can see that it can get good results as opposed to looking at flawed research: http://theadvocate.com/home/3371805-125/virtual-schools-scores-disputed
    See the end of this where a more whole picture results.
    That said, this doesn’t prove that it works either–and misses the point. We need individual student learning growth measures ultimately, which we don’t have today.

  • Bob Graves says:

    I guess we can all choose what is flawed research. The bigger question is whether the big corporations will wrest control of education from Americans. In Maine, despite Tea Party governor Paul LePage creating a virtual school commission by executive order, wiser heads prevailed to block a plan that would have done just that.

  • Comment on this Article

    Name ()


    Sponsored Results

    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform