Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The problem with online schools . . .

In a recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Susan Patrick, head of International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), disagreed with Nina Rees, head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and her emerging belief that online schools should not be charter schools. 

According to Ms. Patrick, "The problem is not that online schools are getting authorized as charter schools. The problem is that the authorizers are not demanding adequate transparency, evidence of quality of work at a college-level ready and are not shutting down or intervening in poor performers."

While I agree with her rebuttal of Ms. Rees' assessment that online schools should not be charter schools, I disagree with her statement of what the problem is with online schools.

Transparency, evidence and intervention are not the problems. They play a role but solving them will not lead to successful online schools.

Now, contrast her opinion with a K12 press release addressing what they see as the problem, also quoted from the Cleveland Plain Dealer article.

"Many families choose online schools because they are fleeing a school or situation that wasn't working for their child, often in distress, or because of other reasons -- bullying, special needs, medical issues, social or emotional challenges, safety concerns, academic problems, etc."

According to K12 in the same release, "For many families, online schools are schools of last resort, the only available public school alternative, thus filling a critical need within the public education system."

Are online schools merely schools of last resort? If so, how would better transparency, evidence of quality and intervention improve them?

Perhaps Susan Patrick and K12 are both wrong.

Better oversight is not what is necessary. Correct oversight is. We need authorizers who understand not the current online model, but rather what the correct model should look like and how to achieve it. Transparency, evidence, and intervention are still being held up by a crumbling foundation. Authorizers need to understand how to construct a foundation that will support success in online schools.

Also incorrect is the idea that online schools are schools of last resort, as K12 would have you believe in their retort to ongoing criticism of their performance.

Perhaps that is the case for many K12 schools, but that has more to do with their messaging, marketing, and recruitment than it does with the reality of online schooling. If you are targeting students who have been bullied, students with medical issues, students with social or emotional challenges, offering them promises that cannot be kept, then the result is what you currently see going on with K12.

See my blog post here for my ideas on what a virtual school should look like -- Virtual School Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients.

And, finally, I would also disagree with Ron Packard's (founder and former CEO of K12) way of looking at it as he stated in the same article in supporting the idea he would not want to block students from enrolling in online schools, "Being in the school is a right. Staying in it is a privilege. That's how I believe you have to look at it."

Being in the school is not a right, it is a choice. Staying in it is not a privilege. It too is a choice.

Virtual schools who see both as choices have the opportunity and potential to recruit differently, enroll differently, retain differently, and serve differently.

So, what is the real problem with online schools? The current model is broken, and it is falling apart.

We have to re-imagine the virtual learning experience. It's time.


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