NYTimes Misses the Mark

No doubt getting a preview of a NYT piece yet to come, Gail Collins uses her column to question the validity of online public schools (for everyone except middle class homeschoolers), and tries to make her case using some flimsy arguments, and familiar critics:

  • Kevin Welner from the union-funded National Education Policy Center who dismisses the extensive research in the field of online learning as nothing but “a couple of blog entries.”  These reports,evaluations, and studies don’t look like blogs to me.
  • A legislator in Tennessee who incorrectly claimed the state’s e4TN supplemental course program was cut because of new legislation expanding districts’ ability to offer online programs (e4TN was funded through a federal program that was eliminated in a bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama – a move that K12 Inc. and other ed tech advocates opposed).

But what is most disappointing is her apparent view that only the most advantaged children should have access to these public school options.  Set aside the fact that online public schools, like all public schools, can’t discriminate based on a child’s socioeconomic status, is she suggesting parents are incapable of making good educational decisions for their children because they live in low-income areas?
Ms. Collins called me to talk about this issue.  She seemed baffled that students who reside in one district could choose to enroll in schools from another district without requiring permission from officials to leave.  I ran through a list of states that for many years have provided families open enrollment across district lines, including in Tennessee, to give parents more freedom to choose the public school that is best for their children.
She seemed equally baffled, and annoyed, that students from Philadelphia to rural parts of Tennessee would choose online public schools.  I explained how online public schools serve all types of students with a range of academic needs – from advanced learners to students that dropped-out of school; providing blended learning opportunities, and teacher-led services designed to support students and families where they are.
I told her online public schools are an option for children; a choice for parents.  They are not a requirement.  While certainly not for everyone, there are many cases of children with special needs,victims of bullying, and other circumstances where online schools provided the best, safest, and sometimes only, public school option.
She told me she spoke with a lot of people for her column, so I offered to put her in touch with some families, including from low-income neighborhoods, to hear directly from them and why they chose online public schools.  She did not accept.

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1 Comment


I worked for K12, Inc when they were putting their reading program together. I'd searched pretty extensively and knew Michael Milken of junkbond jail-term fame wanted to be the "cradle to the grave" online education provider... and I of course surmised that he just might want to have a money-making monopoly...
... but I was honestly impressed with the serious investment in the curriculum, at least the reading part that I was working on. They could have grabbed stuff that was out there and done what so many do -- put texts on the screen and call it technology (whether texts for parents to use to figure out lessons or stuff for the kids to use). Instead, they brought in real experts (Louisa Moats, f'rinstance), and designed an excellent, hardly-on-the-computer-at-all program with *more* actual activity (e.g, hand gestures to emphasize developing sound-symbol associations) instead of less.
That was just part of the whole business, and I know school admins and politicians are painfully highly skilled at misusing good educational tools, but I, too, thought the editorial failed to make her point.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks. K12 certainly take curriculum seriously. They spent more than $150m on curriculum development and the level of content would make ED Hirch smile.

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