21 Aug 2014
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Opinion: Cutting the Clutter About Online Charter Schools

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

Opinion: Cutting the Clutter About Online Charter Schools

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. 

Continue reading on  NJSpotlight.com.

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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