Opinion: Cutting the Clutter About Online Charter Schools

Arguments about virtual charters seem to be more about territory than education.

By Laura Waters

[Laura Waters has been president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County for six years. She also blogs about New Jersey education policy and politics at NJLeftBehind.com. A former instructor at SUNY Binghamton in a program that served educationally disadvantaged students from New York's inner cities, she holds a Ph.D. in early American literature from Binghamton.]

There’s a ruckus at the New Jersey Department of Education.

New Jersey's charter school legislation is 17 years old, dating back to the dawn of the Internet era. It's showing its age. Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf believes he can use DOE-issued regulations to bring the law up to date. But others think he’s arrogantly bypassing the legislative process.

More offensive to certain lobbying groups, primarily the NJEA and Education Law Center (ELC), the most recent draft of these proposed regulations would remove the requirement that charters serve “contiguous school districts” and implicitly allow the establishment of online charter schools.

In a July 24 letter to Cerf, the lobbyists warn that “the Legislature has not authorized blended online programs that feature a prominent online component nor has the Legislature prescribed a percentage of online instruction that is acceptable in a blended or hybrid program." The complaint also alleges that two approved charter schools in Newark “appear to be online virtual charter schools with the veneer of a traditional bricks and mortar charter schools to mask their true nature.”

Let's cut through all this noise -- including exchanges about the reputation of one of the charter providers (K12) -- and confront the specter of online learning straight on: both fulltime and hybrid (blended).

Nationally, 40 states have passed online learning policies and 30 states and D.C. have created virtual schools. A relatively new group, iNACOL, (International Association for K-12 Online Learning) just released its five Principles for Model Legislation in States.

As goes the country, so goes New Jersey. Explains Dr. Roy Montesano of Ramsey Public Schools, the state's 2012 Superintendent of the Year, “A hybrid model is where education is headed, and we need to stay on top of that as educators. In order to be successful, we need to look beyond our walls for ways to offer what can’t be accomplished in house.”

More and more New Jersey students are going out of house and online. Forty-three public high schools -- 11 percent -- participate in the Virtual High School Global Consortium. 

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NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.


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Abby Normal August 14, 2012 at 12:49 AM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenure_%28academic%29 : Tenure commonly refers to life tenure in a job and specifically to a senior academic's contractual right not to have his or her position terminated without just cause. It seems the problem people have with tenure is that the administrators and supervisors responsible for doing their job of proper evaluation and follow up have dropped the ball. They do not do the required paperwork and evidence gathering necessary to bring up an individual on tenure charges. Further, in many instances, it is the nepotism and cronyism rampant in schools that stops these same supervisors and administrators from giving accurate evaluations and gathering evidence... starting a paper trail. This is NOT the fault of the teachers or the teacher's union. Now one can argue that all public sector jobs must release all relationships to prove lack of cronyism or nepotism, but that'll never happen because it's a favorite tool of all politicians... and yes, especially Christie. The signed reform was needed to streamline the process but again, it's only as good as the evaluation and evaluators who, in most cases, are products of nepotism themselves.
Abby Normal August 14, 2012 at 12:54 AM
By the way, where is your research proving that millions are spent annually on "bad" teachers? What is the criteria for a "bad" teacher? How many "bad" teachers are there? The "bad teacher" meme is a faceless and baseless scapegoat. This is a talking point that seeks to hurt the VAST majority of teachers for the sake of "getting" a few ineffective ones out. Yes, there should be zero ineffective teachers, but why isn't anyone reforming the administrators and supervisors who can easily pluck them out, instead of putting 99% of the teachers on the sacrificial block to get at them?
Joe R August 14, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Princeton, South Brunswick and West Windsor schools get top marks, that's with teacher unions and tenure. Camden schools have monumental problems, Camden the city has monumental problems, such as one of the highest poverty rates in America, high unemployment and a very high crime rate. So let's blame the teachers and tenure???? Tenure has been around for more than 100 years, it's not to blame for Camden's or Newark's educational problems. Tenure is just due process, if not for tenure they would be getting rid of the older teachers. Why the heck doesn't Bill Gates spend his billions on pre school centers, nursery schools for working mothers, free health care, vision and dental clinics in these high poverty areas. Schools don't exist in a vacuum and can't be expected to cure all the social ills and problems in a given school district. The Camden teachers may be doing a heroic effort to educate the children but are being slammed because they have not worked miracles that no one would be able to perform under the circumstances, such as crowded classrooms and decaying school buildings. As it stands, I don't get to vote whether a charter school is located in my district, I don't get to vote on the charter school budget, I don't get to vote for the charter school board of directors. Cerf decides if and where a charter school will be located without any input from the community which foots the bill for the charter school.
Abby Normal August 14, 2012 at 01:06 AM
The problem I have with the "house is on fire! Do something now! Anything!!" call to education reform is that those things being proposed are causing more harm than good. There is clear research proving that statement. However the one element that galls me the most, as a graduate of a great public state college, is that the proposed reforms will only help some. Justice for some, not for all. How is that? Charters, vouchers, scholarships, whatever, will only help a very small segment of the population in most need of help. Here is what's needed and proven out by research: small class sizes, arts education, extra-curricular activities, less dependence on testing, teacher autonomy, and parental accountability, the exact same education that our billionaire reformers have for their own children. Yet they promote what's "good for thee but not for me." I don't buy it and neither should you. Yes, lets talk to real educators what works and what doesn't. Lets look at "the best" and make it our model for ALL of those students needing it in our poorest areas. When that is done, then I'll know we are serious about education reform in those parts of our state. But seriously, that won't happen, we both know that. In the mean time the billionaire boy's club will promote those things that make money off the backs of our poorest. When they fail, like the state has, and they will, then what?
Joe R August 14, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Oh no, here we go again, another anti-teacher anti-union propaganda film, “Won’t Back Down:" As Parents Across America explains: But the storyline about the parent takeover has no resemblance to reality, says New York parent activist Leonie Haimson, a PAA co-founder. “The movie is supposedly based on a process called the ‘parent trigger,’ which purports to empower parents. But actually, the ‘parent trigger’ has a track record of 100 percent failure, and has pitted parents against parents and torn apart school communities at the two schools where it has been tried,” said Haimson. She points out that “Won’t Back Down” was produced by Walden Media, owned by conservative mogul Philip Anschutz, a major donor to anti-gay, creationist and other right-wing causes. Walden Media was the co-producer of the 2010 anti-public-education pseudo-documentary ‘Waiting for ‘Superman’.” From jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com: ["Teachers Rock 2012" is a promotional scheme for the upcoming anti-teacher movie, Won't Back Down.] "Teachers Rock 2012" is sponsored by Walmart, the retailer owned by the Walton family. The Walton Family Foundation gave out $159 million in support of charter schools and vouchers, neither of which have been shown to improve achievement when accounting for student characteristics. Walmart is one of the most anti-union corporations in America and the Walton Family promotes an anti-union, democracy distorting agenda.


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