More virtual schools likely for Georgia. Good news?

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

35 comments Add your comment


December 17th, 2010
9:20 am

Homeschool parents will flock to this option.

I have a few concerns about cyber-schooling. Cyber charter schools are being touted on Wall Street as the next big investment. Joel Klein was hired by Murdock to develop strategies to put News Corp. into the education marketplace. The Washington Post is heavily invested in Kaplan K-12. Start digging and you’ll find all the “big voices” in education have ties to the for-profit K-12 industries. One has to wonder if the reason is because they feel so strongly about the improving the education of students or the possibility of huge profits. My guess is money.

Now, you wrote an excellent piece about for-profit universities this week. When I read that piece, I wondered if anyone would connect the possible consequences for k-12 education once the for-profit guys are allowed into the school building?

I read a news blurb last week (that I can’t find anymore) that stated investments in for-profit charters and cyber schools increased after the Nov. elections. Investors were “encouraged” by the future possibilities in k-12 investments and a Republican congress.


December 17th, 2010
9:22 am

Virtual schools work well for providing specialized courses that local school can’t afford or don’t have enough kids to justify. They’re also a great way for kids to catch up on missing credits. The only challenge is proving that the registered student is the one actually doing the work. As much as teachers worry about parents doing homework and projects to boost a child’s grade, online classes will only make the challenge of proving the student actually does the work more challenging. I love the idea and have seen it work for quite a few kids, but there are kinks to work out.


December 17th, 2010
9:26 am

teacher&mom: good point. The republicans want to privatize education and social security anyway. They’re great ways to make money off the taxpayers. As an educator, I worry about the for profit environment we’re heading into. Virtual schools are first along with charters, then we’ll get vouchers. Eventually the public schools will be holding tanks for the poor. We’ll eventually be resegregating along economic lines if the Republicans have their way.

South Ga Teacher180

December 17th, 2010
9:39 am

The problem with this whole funding issue is that it will take a substantial amount of local and state allocated tax dollars from each school system in which the student resides. For very rural school systems, this will hurt the funding and hiring of teachers thus increasing class sizes in the brick-and-mortar schools. Until solid research has been done to investigate if virtual charter education shows appropriate achievement, funding should be limited and based on achievement success rates. A blanket funding model is not the best solution.


December 17th, 2010
9:40 am

A workbook approach to teaching. America is known for invention. When we’ve dumbed down everyone to the point of filling in bubbles and regurgitation of knowledge we can rename out country CHINA.

Our education system must learn to educate everyone in an inclusive environment that allows for cookie cutter thought that can score high on standardized tests. This regurgitated knowledge is like a computer. Everyone is entitled to a seat at the table to share god’s gifts of inventiveness and knowledge in something that cannot be so easily measured.

I would hate to see this approach used in our public schools as the sole approach to teaching.
Education at any level is not a nut an bolt concept.
Some of America’s most successful people are not formally educated.
Public Education should protect everyone…and provide a safety net for all. Inclusive education with small groups of students… An inclusive appreciation for all thought will save our society.
The numbers that rank Public Education do not need to be compared to the numbers used to rank businesses and banks. These are two separate issues. In the US we are trying to educate everyone. We are looking for the inventor…the next cure for cancer…a new sun for earth…how to save our planet. The humans that think in these higher levels do not necessarily score high on a standardized test. They are not in the gifted and talented program. They are usually sitting in the corner somewhere and ignored by the Public Education System. If their families are rich enough they find them a place at the private school table of education. Otherwise these students depend on a teacher in the public school that has some sense…and if they don’t have the luck of meeting one…they learn to survive the public school system. These students either go in a negative direction or excel to a position far above what we can conceive.

We must change public school education…Many of us have experienced it first hand. We all know what is going on…and we continue to ignore it. Someone needs to take charge!


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Maureen Downey

December 17th, 2010
9:48 am

teacher&mom, One of the untold stories here is that when Georgia began discussing charter schools, we talked about teachers and parents starting schools. But we are seeing a rise in commercial chains coming into Georgia now that the funding formula is more attractive to them. The original concept was that these schools would be free of the bureaucracy that hinders conventional public schools, but these new charters are simply part of other bureaucracies, often out-of-state for-profit companies that may or may not be responsive to the local community.
It may be that it takes the resources of a commercial education enterprise to succeed with a charter school in light of all of the challenges.
But I think the assumption that charter schools will be hatched at kitchen tables by idealistic teachers and parents is no longer true. There are a few, but less and less.

Just Wondering

December 17th, 2010
10:10 am

This is a great addition and should be viewed as one of the solutions, but not the solution, to improving educational performance of students. I hope a virtual charter school is established to re-engage drop-outs and for credit recovery similar to those in Florida.


December 17th, 2010
10:23 am

First, the audience most capable of taking advantage of on-line learning begin the process with a huge advantage – motivation. They also have strong support from educated family members. There are many, many children in Georgia who would not gain an ounce of benefit from the on-line programs, because, believe it or not, it takes human interaction to truly learn.

Second, follow the money. For the last 30 years, the privatization agenda has grown stronger and stronger. The point of this agenda is not really about reducing taxes and government costs. It is more about transferring public money to private corporations. The concern you share about the direction charter school applications have taken is well founded.

Third, the whole concept of school will continue to shift in this highly technological age. The schools that are able to keep up with and stay ahead of the curve will be successful. The schools that need the most help, though, are in neighborhoods where programs like this will bring the least benefit – families simply do not have access to the computer technology they need. They also do not have the knowledge base at home (many times) to support a student with the k-12 learning needs.

South Ga Teacher180

December 17th, 2010
10:47 am

With the decision to fund these schools in place, GA should now review the seat time requirement for high school students. Texas and North Carolina do not have this anymore and they manage to meet accreditation. What gives GA?

[...] More virtual schools likely for Georgia. Good news? | Get Schooled. [...]

Double Zero Eight

December 17th, 2010
10:53 am

This will have little impact on the students that need it the most. The highly motivated students that
are peforming well will be the main ones that benefit.

Tony’s 10:23 blog is an excellent synopsis.


December 17th, 2010
10:57 am

The seat time requirement is one of the most archaic rules in place for high school students. This rule alone forces students to take courses that waste their precious time and prevent them from taking higher level courses or college courses. A testing option should be made available for students who excel.


December 17th, 2010
11:16 am

HStchr – that’s the point. Finally, motivated kids with motivated parent can get our of the government school dregs and get an education. “The poor” …. or those of the poor who don’t give a rip, can just stay in their government sponsored holding tanks until they graduate to the local prison.

another comment

December 17th, 2010
11:53 am

I signed my now 5th grader up for the K-12 virtual school for 4th grade. It was an absolute joke. It was nothing but a glorified home schooling. It was a way for the Home Schoolers to get their books and Materials for free at the expense of the tax payers. It as also a way for a “For Profit Company” K-12, which is just like Kaplan to make alot of money. The so called teacher is anything but virtual. You had to e-mail them questions and they had 24-48 hrs to respond.

To me virtual meant the teacher would be on-line at the same time like ” One Two three meeting or some other virtual conferencing programing” I taught a Senior level college course for a top 20 University this way over twenty years ago.

I took my daughter out after 1 day. I did not sign up to be the un-paid teacher, just get free borrowed books, some zerox copies and let some for profit company make a couple a grand profit per year. If you want to home school, Home school your kids on your own. Otherwise give all of us a voucher, so we can make a true choice on where we want our kids to go to school. I personally, would love to be able to send my kids back to Catholic School. But they have dead beat fathers and the Judges in Georgia won’t order the payment of tution in a Child Support order, even though it was where they were at, at the time of the divorce.


December 17th, 2010
12:52 pm

Our family is thrilled by this decision! We currently have our elementary-aged son enrolled in a virtual school. It is the best decision that we could have made. I have the time and interest to devote to it, we love the flexibility, and he is thriving.

I think it is great that we are beginning to rethink our definition of “school”. We do not sit in front of the computer all day, and we don’t do workbook sheets all day. The lessons are thought-provoking, and we are able to elaborate on things that interest him when time allows. Conversely, when he “gets it’, we are done and move on. I doubt that a teacher with 30 other kids to worry about could do that.

Virtual Schools are a great OPTION for some families. A traditional brick and mortar school with a Monday through Friday schedule would be a hard challenge for our family (and not a good OPTION), so we are so glad that our tax dollars are being used to work for us also.

Economics Teacher

December 17th, 2010
2:28 pm

The most populated course in the Fulton County Virtual School is Physical Fitness! Many students fail it when they first take it because they don’t want to dress out. Then they pay to take it online to make the course up. They have these wristband type things to monitor heartrate.

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December 17th, 2010
4:28 pm

An interesting innovation in virtual learning…providing more opportunity where learning is underutilized. For example, if there are a handful of students across multipole school districts that were interested in an atypical HS course like Chinese, the state could do a virtual learning course where 1 or 2 classes might be justified even though no school might hsve more than a handful of students that are interested in the course.

Another example might be coordinating some extra help for students that are having difficulties. If there are some online recorded lessons, these could be a good starting point to help them get additional exercises in areas of difficulty.


December 17th, 2010
5:22 pm

One of my children took an online course through Cobb County a few years ago to move ahead a year in Math. He was very motivated. We were required to purchase speaker headsets so that the students could interact with the teacher. What a joke. The teacher merely posted powerpoints of the Math problems, graded the emailed homework and tests. There was no class time virtual or otherwise. In fact the teacher was on vacation and moving for about three weeks out of the seven to eight week course.

If you had a question you emailed the teacher and she emailed you back within 1 to 2 days. Of course she noted it would be longer when she was on vacation. The final was an in person test at a local high school with ID required.

I would never support virtual education in this format.


December 17th, 2010
5:52 pm

The flexibility of online options is a great tool for credit recovery, AP courses, under-enrolled world languages and home schoolers. However, buyer beware: The virtual school is an extremely lucrative goldmine for profiteering companies like Michael Milken (yes THAT ex-convict) and his company K12, Inc, the juggernaut in online education. Low cost offerings provided through mergers and acquisitions that take public dollars out of the community for the benefit of a very, very profitable publicly held corporation. Everything you need to know about the model is here:
What the Bee neglected to disclose in this article is that the troubled Compton Unified School District of 26,000 students south of downtown LA has had campuses with low test scores,


December 17th, 2010
5:56 pm

“We are looking for the inventor…the next cure for cancer…a new sun for earth…how to save our planet. The humans that think in these higher levels do not necessarily score high on a standardized test. They are not in the gifted and talented program. They are usually sitting in the corner somewhere and ignored by the Public Education System.”

Please name some of these people who are average in mental ability but they are highly creative and inventive.

Bill Gates is a genius. Mark Zuckerberg who invented Facebook had a perfect score on his SAT. Herb Boyer who invented gene splicing (all biotech came from him) founded Genentech.

Gifted people are the creators and inventors. That’s actually why we call them Gifted – get it- gifted – not like us. Often gifted students are overlooked because they come in all shapes and sizes, all races, colors and creeds, all socioeconomic strata, and in both genders. But to say that people of average ability create and invent like gifted individuals is not correct. We need to be doing more to identify and challenge these students. They are often where we least expect them to be.


December 17th, 2010
6:55 pm

For those worried about whether the student or someone else does the actual work, one way to avoid that in a high school format is to simply give three in-school tests for a combined 75% of the grade. The remaining 25% of the class grade would be made up from homework, projects, etc.

The student has to come to a proctored test site with ID to take these exams. That would ensure that the student personally earns at least 75% of the overall class grade. The Ga Virtual Academy does proctored testing for online courses that have an EOCT component. It shouldn’t be that hard to implement for other virtual high schools.


December 17th, 2010
7:01 pm

Slightly off-topic, but do these new virtual schools carry accreditation? Can a child matriculating from a high school earn a regular high school diploma? Will colleges accept these students as regular admits? For that matter, if a child pulls out of one of these virtual schools, can he or she slide back into regular public school seamlessly? What about required testing? etc…

If these schools are truly going to be paid for by public dollars, are they going to be required to fulfill all the BS the regular public schools have to do? If not, why not? Does this not set up an unequal education system (which is against the law if I recall correctly)?

Charter Schools are PUBLIC Schools

December 17th, 2010
10:35 pm

All start-up charters (which these virtual ones are I believe) are required to organize and operate as non-profit organizations. For-profit companies can be hired to run the school, but the school itself must be non-profit.

See the Georgia DOE Charter FAQ on this topic:

A good analogy might be newer cities such as Johns Creek and Milton that originally outsourced many city services to a for-profit company to help them run their non-profit city government.

I know the for-profit companies that manage these types of schools are also usually brought in to assist in organizing as well, but I don’t think they can lead the effort (i.e. parents/community must lead the charge). I’d like to hear the actual experience of anyone that has been involved in this type of situation.

Also, Maureen, you stated that you “think the assumption that charter schools will be hatched at kitchen tables by idealistic teachers and parents is no longer true. There are a few, but less and less.” Is your belief based on actual inspection of existing charters or just a guess/hunch on your part?

If you are guessing, then that would be a great future blog topic to actually research (hint, hint).

I disagree with you by the way (which *is* a guess on my part), I would bet it’s probably an even split or in favor of the locally organized charters – especially if you include conversion and local educational agency (LEA) charter schools in addition to start-up charters (e.g. I don’t think any of the Sandy Springs conversion charters – almost every public school in Sandy Springs – engaged for-profit management companies).

Also, when trying to determine how many start-up charters are dependent on for-profit management companies or non-local entities to run the school, the composition of the governing board of the charter should be inspected closely. If a majority of board seats are controlled/determined by the for-profit or non-local group, that would support your concern, especially if it is a super-majority (e.g. 5 of 7 board seats are chosen by the management company or organizing entity instead of being elected by parents of the school).

Finally, I will say that organizing a start-up charter from the kitchen table is EXTREMELY difficult from both a time and talent standpoint based on my conversations with folks that have been through it. You must engage people with a breadth of talents that are willing to pour enormous amounts of time into compiling a quality charter and guiding it through the submission and approval process. Not only must you get the LEA to approve, but it must also go through state approval after that. That’s a lot of meetings during the normal workday hours of the volunteer parents trying to garner charter approval (i.e. you will spend a lot of your vacation days on this alone).

And the reward for getting your charter approved? You get to begin all over again in actually starting the school up and overseeing its operations. That is no small task so I can see why many would engage a for-profit management company to assist them or oversee it entirely.

Finally, as for concerns about these for-profit management companies making money, I just don’t see there being enough money for this to be extremely lucrative after you pay the operational costs for the schools (lease/salaries/supplies/insurance/etc). Start-up charters already receive less funding per pupil than traditional public schools.

Obviously, there is some profit to be made by these management companies or they would not remain; however, it seems much more profit could be gained by starting a for-profit private school in a state that allowed vouchers.


December 17th, 2010
11:31 pm

We attend Georgia Cyber Academy through k12. It is a public online school, so we follow same standards and policies as a brick and mortar public school. Our attendance is monitored our children are required to take state standarized testing such as the CRCT.

Fire Bad Teachers

December 17th, 2010
11:33 pm

Public virtual schools are held to the same standards as their brick and mortar counterparts. For example, virtual school students are required to take the Georgia CRCT.

Really amazed

December 18th, 2010
1:07 am

Then how is it any different then attending a local public school. Seems like it is still basic GA standards. Teaching to the crct test???


December 18th, 2010
4:53 pm

The number of graduates will definately increase. The quality of education just took another flush! Wiki answers and ten minutes equals a semester of lecture and true education!


December 18th, 2010
4:53 pm

The number of graduates will definately increase. The quality of education just took another flush! Wiki answers and ten minutes equals a semester of lecture and true education!


December 18th, 2010
8:11 pm

What most of those who speak out against Cyber schools do not realize is that all children in Georgia do not have the opportunity to attend quality public schools. When we bought our home the realitor mistakenly told us our house sat in a different school zone. It was a logical mistake since the school zone changes 2 blocks from our home. But we currently live in a failing school district. ALL schools currently have to offer school choice, or did when my kids would have attended. At the middle school there was a riot just outside the school, it was so bad the police had to come in and break it up. I have a friend who works at the high school and he refused to allow me to put my son in the school. He recounted stories of teachers being mugged in class and kids constantly being bullied. And since my son has a realy soft heart there is no way he could be there.

Yes, my kids could have gotten school choice if you call it that, If you are lucky and get a transfer to the closest transfer eligable school, they will only have to travel 1 hour each way to school in a non airconditioned bus. Or I would have to drive 4 hours a day to pick them off and drop them.

The School district I live in has NO County Charter schools above 5th grade. And i can not afford a private school. I am a teacher and I homeschooled my children until last year. I was very resistant to cyber at first, and i think you will find almost all homeschooler will be. Homeschoolers mainly homeschool because THEY like to choose the curriculum. By and large they want to fit curriculum to work with their families values. In public school cyber schools you CAN NOT pick and choose curriculum like other schools. Though there is some flexability to move ahead, it is limited. For instance my daughter started Kindergarten at 4 before we moved to Georgia, and sho she should be in 8th grade right now but GCA forced her into 7th because it is “age appropriate”

Both of my Children attend Georgia Cyber Acadamy, which is the only cyber school currently running. I choose to go to GCA not because I wanted to stop homeschooling, BUT because I wanted more opportunities for my children to interact with other children.

As far as the quility of education I am a teacher and I can tell you it is the same if not better than the public schools in our area. In the beginning of this year My son attended A public school under the “no child left behind” Choice program. the math was mediocre at best. And they only offered 1/2 a year in every math course unless you took bonehead math. As a teacher I can tell you this is a sick joke students need an ongoing program of math to really be successful. This is a cost cutting measure that allows them to hire less math teachers at the cost of the students education. To make it worse the math was like he was doing what we did in middle school all over. But when he Moved to GCA he spent the first quarter as a refresher on Algebra1 and He has recently moved on to Algebra 2. The thing with cyber schools is just like public schools, you can take away from it what you put into it. If you are willing to do the work you can get a FAR better education than in most public schools. Yes the kids can cheat (just like in public schools) But the end of course exams and CRCTs are in person tests, so if they cheat they will not pass the test and will not pass on to the next grade level, so they will only cheat themselves.

I am very thankful to the Georgia Charter Commission are able to give my children, more opportunities to learn beyond the failing schools in our district. I am hoping to try a different High school next year, because I have heard much better things about The clairity of Communication and Quality of Connections as compared to GCA, which is at the High school level a bit confusing for students.

THANK YOU CHARTER COMMISSION for giving my children options that failing schools will never offer.

Economics Teacher

December 20th, 2010
2:17 pm

I taught through the Fulton Virtual School. The classes that I taught were never meant to have the teacher teaching through video or closed circuit. Some posters/parents here seem disappointed about that, but as far as I know, it was never meant and never promised to be teaching in that fashion.


December 21st, 2010
5:43 am

For profit companies? I thought companies like K 12 and Connections Academy were vendors of a curriculum, no different than a for profit company like McGraw Hill servicing a school with a curriculum of text books. The schools are operated by an actual school district, for example Atlanta Public Schools.. They pay the for profit company the rights to use the materials. Am I correct thinking this or am I misunderstanding something? If that is the case, I see nothing wrong about it..

My daughter goes to Virtual School. It takes her 2 hours to complete a full day of study, and she is an A+ Student about a year ahead across the board in benchmarks. She did not perform well at all in brick and mortar. The brick and mortar school was about to give up on my daughter and throw her in special ed classes to rot. That happened to me when I was young, I didn’t want it to happen to my daughter. It took 10 years out of my life re-educating myself.

For those of you who believe this form of education is a bad idea. I challenge you to find one credible goverment study to back up what you say. The goverment studies are showing within 4 years, 85% of all students in this country will be enrolled in some form of virtual courses.

Patrick Crabtree

December 21st, 2010
1:21 pm

Virtual? Hmmmmmm……can we APS?????? Who’s minding the work? How does one know who is doing the work? I really beg the question about those who got their online degree (doctorates). Who monitors virtual testing? What about the scandal a few years back about buying degrees???? Face to face, transparency, and accountability is truly in question here.

Patrick Crabtree

December 21st, 2010
1:25 pm

Enrolling does not equate actual learning or if it is the best idea. All it says is people can sit at home and do classwork. That is another question, how will they do as actual employees if they cannot get up and attend a classroom???????