29 November 2010

I Renew My War Against Charter Schools.

Hello, dear reader, and welcome back to the "Dirty Dozen"; a list of the problems that I see facing American education, and occasionally a suggestion for how to fix it.
Today, I renew my clarion call against charter schools. But before I do, a little explanation about my background, and the background of charter schools, in case you are unfamiliar with either one.
I have spent the last decade nine years of my life teaching in public schools. When I started in public schools I didn't do it for any great philosophical reason, but because that was who offered me a paying position and benefits. At the time, especially in Indiana, charter schools were largely a non-issue. In my time in public schools, I have come to value that they are the bedrock of American democracy. Public schools, at their best and worst, provide equal opportunity for their students. This is the value that Americans value above most others; that we all have an equal opportunity to succeed or fail based on our own efforts.

Charter schools have risen in demand for "better" schools. They began as a movement to allow parents and teachers who were frustrated with mostly urban public schools to leave and start their own schools. These schools, unlike private schools, would be granted charters, and would operate as "public". This means that they received public funding, and had to admit students regardless of race, gender, creed, or color. However, they could do many things that "regular" public schools could not. For example, they could place a hard cap on enrollment, allowing them to turn students away if too many students wanted to enroll. These schools have been gaining popularity and are growing across the nation, despite the fact that their results are the same as the public schools which they are an alternative to. (check out this story, about 1/4 of the way down).

Anyway, I've gone on at great length about charter schools before (read here, if you haven't before), so I'll try to avoid repeating that rant. Why? Because I have a new rant.

A new rant? But how? I work in education, there's always material for a new rant.

I'm currently on the warpath against online schools. Sure, I don't like charter schools, with their playing by different rules, and their touting results produced with different rules. I don't like how they segregate society by who's parents care. I don't like that people see them as a solution, instead of working within the system to affect change for all students. But "brick-and-mortar" charter schools seem like bastions of educational sanity compared to online schools. 

Online schools are charter schools which, by and large, offer classes statewide, and allow students to complete their learning at home, in a self-directed manner. (full disclosure: I am good friends with several people who work for online schools, and I don't hate them as people. But I also know that they could do better. I'm just saying, ladies.......)

You might be wondering why these schools would do this. For the money. You see, every student in a state carries with them money from the state. Online schools claim this money for those students whom they enroll. However, in general, online schools have much lower overhead costs, since they tend to not have much in the way of buildings or staff, since the learning is self-directed and on the Internet. Thus, they are money makers. Some other time, I'll let loose on how schools shouldn't make money, but should try their hardest to just break even.

Now, I'm not going to spend my evening writing a scathing critique of the academic achievement records of these schools, because it has already been done for me . Instead, I plan to attack them for the one thing they generally fail at more than teaching kids. Socializing kids.

For a moment, let us be honest. School was full of embarrassment. I, for one, made tragic hair decisions from about 1992-1999. For those keeping track, that was when I was in middle and high school. I'm sure many of you can also remember / regret choices you made socially while you were in school. Your peers probably made you suffer for it. That's a good thing. Wait, what? Suffering is good? Yes.

I know that no one wants their child to be picked on. No one wants suffering. In fact, suffering, on occasion, creates great tragedy. Ask anyone who attended school or taught in Colorado post-Columbine. 

However, in the vast majority of cases, the suffering leads to some tears, maybe a fight. And learning. Oh yes, learning. No, this isn't on any test, but it's learning. It's social learning. And social learning is one of those untested things that schools provide which is so important. You see, by allowing our children to make low-impact bad choices, and suffer socially in a pretty safe social environment, they grow, and society continues to have people who can interact with one another.

This aspect is lost in an online charter school. Since students are self-directed, they are free to be as odd and off as they want to be, with no social ramifications. In some cases, their only face-to-face interactions will be with their immediate family. If you've read my manifesto on parents, you know that I'm not sure that is all that healthy. ( MANIFESTO ).

So, now, you've got an entire group of students, who probably need the social interaction more than most students, in a school with very little social interaction.

Well, that seems like a good plan.

And now, to reward you for getting to the end, a mini u-boat.

Q: Why did the missionary Narcissa Whitman go into the west?
A: To spread her face to the Indians.


  1. For the record, Falcon Virtual Academy is NOT a charter, but rather a public K-12 online school. I am not a proponent of charter schools but do like choice. FVA does online much differently than other "statewide" programs. Our student have MANY social interactions, clubs and field trips. We go out and perform community service.

    Additionally, our students recieve direct instruction and are not out there in cyberspace doing what they want. We know 1st hand the failures of programs like COVA and Branson and refusse to allow our kids to become statistics. As a matter of fact, we have many high schoolers wanting to return to their brick and mortar schools so they no longer will be held accountable to us. Yes, we actually talk to our students and know exactly how much time they spend on lessons, quizzes and tests.

    Please feel free to come and visit us at FVA. You will see students interacting with teachers, administrators and other students. Difference is, we have established relationships with our students and parents. Most of my kids couldn't tell you who their school administrators were at their traditional schools. It's all about the people!!!

  2. It would seem your comments could be equally applied to home-schooling in general. Do you see home-schooling as an equally poor choice for a child's education as online schools, or is there some differentiating factor that makes one preferable to another.

    It wasn't primary education, but I did earn my graduate degree through Indiana Wesleyan, which offers both classroom instruction and online courses. I had the option to choose and selected classroom instruction. I'm so glad I did. This was for a management degree, and one of the most important aspects of management is communication. Classroom students were required to regularly interact both individually and in front of groups. When an online student would occasionally join us to make up a missed course, it was clear that the communication skill was severely lacking.

    I see online courses as potentially useful for making up a missed course or for acquiring a specific skill, but it is a poor choice as the primary method of education.

  3. I'm disturbed by the trend toward online schools. Certainly, they can be useful for some students at some times (I'm thinking extended illness, being kicked out of public school for some zero tolerance policy...), but they are not a sustainable long term solution.

    I'm particularly wary of online higher education! Sure, a course here and there can help a professional retain certification or learn a new skill, but as the basis for a degree they are lacking on so many levels.

    Additionally, there are people out there who get paid to take these classes for the actual students, once again giving us a society full of higher degrees with no real skills behind them. Check out this story: http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/125329/

  4. I think, in general, that homeschooling is as bad, if not worse than, online schools. Have no fear, the BlazeBlog has it's homeschooling rant loaded and ready to go!