Online Public Charter Schools – The Silver Bullet for Day Schools?

Spring, 2010
Source: Jewish Educational Leadership. Spring 2010 (8:2) 
In this article, the authors investigate the possibility of using public, online charter schools to provide general education – at almost no cost – to day schools.
Charter schools are experimental public schools that work independently of local school boards. Of the 4500 charter schools there are 180 that exist exclusively online. As of January 2007, these cyber-charters, which operate in 25 states, are responsible for educating approximately 100,000 students a year.
Cyber-charters are fully functioning K-12 public schools with accredited teachers, guidance counselors, and administrative staff. When students enroll in cyber-charters, they are sent boxes of text books and materials, often a computer and printer, along with a monthly check to cover the Internet expenses. As cyber-charters appeal primarily to home-schoolers, students log in to school from home and “go to school” while parents act as mentors, tutors for their children. Students participate in asynchronous classes at their own pace along with real-time classes and meetings with their teachers, who not only keep track of student progress and attendance, but also respond to student questions and grade assignments. And because they are public schools, all the costs are covered by the local school board and the State Department of Education.
After describing the cyber-charters, their advantages and disadvantages, the authors reach the following conclusions:
"Day school parents pay twice for their children's education – once in the form of education taxes, from which they currently receive little in return, and once in the form of tuition. The opportunity for savings is significant if day schools can use online public or charter schools to provide general studies courses. Tuitions can be reduced significantly as tax dollars are used to provide secular education. There are, however, catches.
Online schooling is more challenging with younger children than with those in middle or high school. All online education requires an adult presence. In the younger grades that presence needs to be more actively involved in the educational process; in the older grades that presence can simply be a monitor or coach. The savings, then, may be significantly offset in the younger grades by the need for adult supervision, and more moderately offset in progressively higher grades.
But even those savings come at a price. Day schools would lose input and control over a significant part of the educational process, and there would be virtually no opportunities for curricular integration. Subtle issues like scheduling and the celebration of public holidays would be infused, unmediated, into the day school experience. Significant components of the educational process, specifically the focus on the whole-child and children's social-emotional development, would not receive the same attention, and online schools have yet to build a track record of acceptances into top tier colleges.
Parents who send their children to day schools for quality, private school experience and education will not accept "outsourcing" their child's secular education. Other parents, however, whose primary motivation for choosing day schools is an intensive Jewish studies program supplemented by an acceptable general studies education may find online charters a reasonable compromise.
Online education is still in its infancy, and already has the potential to impact on day schools. In the years to come, it is likely that elements of online education will begin to infuse increasing parts of the educational process. Only time will tell to what extent it will have an impact on day schools, and on their affordability."
Updated: Jun. 06, 2010