Opinion
Education Opinion

The Solution to Virtual Public Schools is to Open Them

By Justin Reich — September 04, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This weekend, Colin Woodward of the Maine Sunday Telegram published a terrific piece of journalism detailing the efforts of national organizations and figures—including Jeb’s Bush’s foundation devoted to online learning and two of the largest corporations selling virtual school programs—to influence virtual school policy in the state of Maine.

Virtual schools are, as we say up he-ah, wicked complicated. I’d like to propose one piece of the solution to getting virtual schools that make state education better: Open them.

Here’s the short version: States should require that virtual school operator applicants declare their position regarding open licensing and distribution of educational resources. Preference should be given to applicants that agree to use Open Educational Resources and platforms, to openly license the resources that they create, and to broadly share their curriculum and program innovations with the world.

This requirement is very much in keeping with the original spirit of charter schools, as experiments in the service of public education. Inserting statewide virtual schools into education ecosystems can impose fiscal burdens on local districts, so virtual schools should have a special obligation to give back to their state with innovations in programs and resources. The Open High School of Utah is at present the peerless model of this mission to improve the education not just of students on Open High School’s roster, but students across Utah and all over the world. The gold standards for virtual school regulators should be the goal of approving online schools that improve learning for all students in the state.

Requiring a commitment to Open Education will separate applicants who are primarily concerned with the civic mission of education from those overly influenced by financial interests.

This Open policy can be implemented either at the legislative level or at the regulatory level. Legislatures can mandate a preference for Open in bills, or regulators and state education agencies can build a preference for Open into applications. A mandate for Open gives reviewers and regulators a powerful lever for identifying and supporting virtual school operators working with the long-term educational interests of the state at heart.

That’s the short version, the long version is going to take me a few more posts to spell out. I’m hoping to cover:


  • the key features of what happened in Maine
  • what is happening in Massachusetts and how I’m trying to advocate for Open policy in my home state
  • why virtual schools are so closely tied to vouchers and the movement to privatize education
  • and why you should support open policy in regards to virtual schools in your own state.

(When I write down a plan in public like that, I’m more likely to actually do it.)

Virtual schools have the potential to be powerful elements in a comprehensive educational ecosystem, and they also run the risk of radically reshaping (destroying might be a better word) the community and civic functions of neighborhood schools. This is a really important issue, and one that lots of constituencies, from the public to edtech enthusiasts, need to wrap their heads around. I’ll see if I can help make some sense of it in the days ahead.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP