|Weapons of Math Destruction (used w/ permission)|
"Cyberschools are the 800-pound gorilla of the choice movement, although vouchers and charter schools get a lot more attention."
The National Education Policy Center claims that online education should be regulated - heavily - and has even offered "model legislation" for states to use in reining in perceived problems.
The report outlines what I feel to be some legitimate problems with cyberschools using state funds. Boodles of tax money - to the tune of 70% of a standard public school education - should not go toward businesses that throw recordings out in place of instruction, give little-to-no teacher interaction, and provide few safeguards to ensure the students have mastered the material. That's robbery. Many taxpayers also don't want to see teaching farmed out to some call center in India, as has apparently happened in the past.
But overall, the report is somewhere between incomplete and shoddy. It offers no distinction between the various education providers and their curriculum, and none between the vastly differing demographics of (1) homeschoolers, (2) traditional public schoolers who are making up credits, (3) public schoolers who use online instruction because they live in a remote location, (4) public schoolers who use online instruction during an ongoing medical problem that precludes school attendance, and (5) public school at home charter students. Reading this "proposed policy" business, it seems that all data remotely having to do with sitting in front of a computer was thrown into an old Tupperware container, shaken up, and presented as a comprehensive analysis potato salad at the educational choices picnic. No one is eating that.
The authors also don't answer any fundamental questions about online learning and what would most benefit the students who are likely to enroll in a cyberschool. For example, the report throws in an oddball statistic: only 3% of black students graduate from these charter schools. What does that mean? Were most of these students behind when they began online instruction? Did they approach online learning as some sort of last resort? Were they "pushed out" because of low test scores which would punish their old schools under NCLB? Something BIG has to be going on to come up with such an extraordinarily low number and likely have more to do with the public schools these children likely came from than the online learning experience. But without more information, that's simply a guess.
There are other tipoffs throughout the report that would point to bias, such as the worry about how much "intergroup contact" is needed for virtual schoolers to experience the "improved intergroup relations" that occur in your local public school. They're also quite worried about whether special needs students, who have wildly varying needs, should even be allowed to have online schooling as an option at all. Just you nevermind the nature of a given person's special need and/or the supports that would be available to that student in conjunction with an online learning program.
This is the sort of thing that passes for unbiased policy positions in the education world.