As expected, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission approved the four charter schools recommended by its interviewing panels. It also raised the per pupil funding for online schools, a move that is likely to lure more virtual enterprises to Georgia.
I have read a lot about virtual education, but still think we are in the discovery phase of whether online learning is effective, especially for younger students. To me, the models depend in great part on the willingness of the parents to essentially co-teach.
In its 2009 meta-analysis of studies on online learning, the U.S. Department of Education noted that online learning was effective, but cautioned: An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).
At the high school level where many Georgia students are taking AP classes online, the evidence is pretty good that virtual schooling can work. But the high school students who pursue AP courses online are motivated and bright kids as shown by their efforts to take online AP courses not offered by their local high schools.
I suspect that we will find out the same thing about virtual k-12 charter schools as we’ve found out about charter schools in general: A few work very well, some are OK and the rest are under performing, a similar picture to public education.
Here is an AJC news story about what the Georgia Charter Schools Commission did this week to render the state more hospitable to virtual education:
The Georgia Charter Schools Commission authorized a new class of charter schools to open this fall, including a K-12 “virtual campus,” two K-8 schools and a middle school. Its decision to free up funding will enable two other cyber schools to start up as well.
After months of research, the commission agreed to increase funding for cyber schools from $3,400 to $5,800 per pupil – a figure below the national average of $6,500, but one that operators say they can live with.
“What we just did is to bring Georgia’s educational system into the 21st century,” said Ben Scafidi, chairman of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission said after votes were cast. “Come this fall Georgia will be a national leader in virtual eduation.”
Georgia Connections Academy was the sole cyber school approved Thursday. The three other charters, all bricks and mortar operations, are Cherokee Charter Academy (the county’s first charter school), Heritage Preparatory Academy and Chattahoochee Hills Charter School. Eleven other petitioners were recommended for denial.
Officials with Georgia Connections Academy were ecstatic. They said the increased funding will allow them to offer classes students can expect at schools in traditional buildings.
Three other cyber campuses will soon offer Georgia Connections some competition. Georgia Cyber Academy, a school currently serving K-9, will be up for vote in January to add 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Two other schools already approved by the commission had said they couldn’t operate at the level of funding the state had set. But with Thursday’s vote to increase the state’s outlay, the two are expected to return to the market.
Officials with the Kaplan Academy of Georgia said they are preparing for an advertising blitz. The cyber campus, which has affiliated with Kaplan, a national education management firm, will open to high school students first and add middle grades later.
“We are incredibly excited that they have made a decision that will allow us to offer a quality high-skilled program for our students,” said Teresa Bensch, board secretary for Kaplan Academy. “This gives us an opportunity to move forward.”
Allison Powell, vice president of the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, said the new funding formula will make Georgia more attractive to cyber school firms nationwide. Currently, there are 200 cyber schools, the majority of which are charters. “It’s good that they took the advice and did the research on what was happening around the country.”
Among the traditional charter schools approved for the fall, Heritage Prep, which is partnering with Emory University, will feature a curriculum focusing on engaging students in debate teams across subject areas. Chattahoochee Hills will incorporate thematic lessons from the farming community that surrounds it.
–By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog