Friday, January 15, 2016

Do What's Best for Kids, Not What's Best for Corporations

HB8 is a very problematic virtual school bill which would open Virginia to corporate virtual providers.  It sets up a virtual school board, and a statewide virtual school for students across the state.  Such schools have resulted in low graduation rates, poor academic performance, and high dropout rates when in other states.   Though an identical bill passed last session, it was amended by adding a reenactment clause requiring the bill to be taken up again next session before it goes into effect.

The bill has been before the General Assembly for a several sessions, and it originated in a time of optimism regarding the promise of virtual education.  Indeed, with a view of the value of the stock of Herndon-based K-12, Inc., a major corporate provider of virtual education, “Mr. Market” is speaking loudly.  The high for the stock was $39.74 in April of 2011.  This month it reached a historic low at $7.18 per share.

Virtual education has not lived up to its promise, and research regarding student achievement of online schools is disappointing.  In October 2015, Mathematica Policy Research, Center on Reinventing Public Education, and the Center on Education Outcomes at Stanford University released a study showing that “students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.”

The September JLARC report on Efficiency and Effectiveness of K-12 Spending asserted that, “Because there is limited research on the effectiveness and cost of online learning programs in Virginia, the state should use a data-driven, incremental approach to expanding access to fully online programs.”

This is just what we are doing now.  VDOE is piloting an online high school program.  Virtual Virginia enrollment continues to grow, and many local schools divisions, by virtue of individual and collective efforts, are expanding virtual offerings to students.  This “incremental approach” is happening in the absence of HB8, which begs the necessity of the bill.

From an educational perspective, virtual education is one tool in the teacher’s tool box.  The learning style of the student determines which tools you use.  Traditionally, the student, the teacher, and the guidance counselor work together to determine the courses students take.  We know that self-motivated students, students with strong time-management skills, and students with the ability to set personal goals are the most successful online students.  The parents, teacher and guidance counselor now serve as the gatekeepers to help students develop the best schedule of courses for the individual student.

The all-or-nothing approach to virtual schools ignores the importance of the jobs our public schools do to work with each student to determine the best course of educational progress.

A major flaw with HB8 is the funding mechanism.  The bill calls for “the average state share of the Standards of Quality per pupil” plus federal funds to be send to the virtual school by the Department of Education.  This figure in not related to any assessment of the cost of providing a virtual program; it is based the cost of providing the state share of support for a traditional “bricks-and-mortar” school.
The VEA Legislative Committee has taken a position in opposition to HB8.  Please contact your Delegate urging opposition to HB8.