Cyber-learning lessons from Georgia

Terry has an op-ed in yesterday's Cleveland Plain Dealer that's worth checking out if you're interested in virtual learning, ways to save costs in K-12 education during unprecedentedly bad times, smart accountability mechanisms for charters (including e-charters), or a combination of these topics.

Georgia recently accepted applications for two new high-quality virtual schools, but one can discern from the explanation by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that the process by which it selected these two particular virtual schools wasn't capricious but was based on ensuring quality as well as accountability. As Terry writes:

In explaining why applicants were rejected, the commission made clear they rejected applicants because they did not believe the proposed models could deliver high-quality instruction to the targeted students. In one case, the commission wrote that it ?was concerned about a proposal that subjects an extraordinary number of students to unacceptable academic standards.?

In contrast, one of the schools approved ? Provost Academy Georgia ? presented an academic plan that went above and beyond what's required by state and federal standards, delineating specific benchmark goals for graduation rates, SAT and ACT performance, and state assessments.

? The law requires that ?substantial independence? be demonstrated between the nonprofit corporation and the for-profit entity so as to ?preserve the public interest and avoid conflicts of interest.?

Terry argues that the process by which the Peach State went about selecting these two virtual schools offers a useful example for Ohio, a state with an ironclad moratorium on e-schools that essentially punishes new virtual schools for the misdeeds of their predecessors and diminishes the market for new online providers and ultimately, opportunities for the students and families who need it the most.? Ohio should lift this moratorium and consider smart accountability mechanisms (such as limited expansion for proven virtual models, just as it does for brick-and-mortar charters), and realize the?cost-savings potential inherent to online learning.

Note: Since this piece has been published Fordham has been contacted by other virtual schools that applied but were rejected by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, as well as by others who are advocates of high-quality virtual learning options. It is clear that folks on the ground in Georgia aren't entirely happy with the Commission, its decision, and especially the way virtual schools are funded (they receive less funding per pupil than brick-and-mortars) so we want to make evident that our suggestion that Ohio look southward is based on the Commission's process alone and not necessarily every aspect of Georgia's charter school program. Simply put, the existence of a commission that vets new charter schools ? virtual and otherwise ? and examines their likelihood to succeed academically before determining to grant them a charter, is smart.

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

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