Thursday, September 17, 2009

Virtual schools have pitfalls, says Steve Monaghan

(Left: LFT President Steve Monaghan speaks to a BESE committee about virtual charter schools.)

So-called virtual schools have a poor track record educating students, and are attractive targets for money-grabbing vendors, according to reports that LFT President Steve Monaghan shared with the state board of education on Wednesday.

His presentation contrasted starkly with information provided by Department of Education staff and a spokesperson for virtual charter schools, who pretty much promised rainbows and ponies if Louisiana allows the creation of schools that exist mainly on the Internet.

Next month, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will consider requests to open three virtual charter schools. The schools will have no campus. Instead, children will log onto their computers and take all their courses online. One of those schools, Louisiana Connections Academy, is represented by Adams and Reese, the law firm where Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek used to work.

Department staff told BESE that they looked hard for studies about virtual charter schools. They provided four glowing reports for board members. Apparently they could not locate the RAND Corporation study that Monaghan talked about in his presentation.

The RAND study said that students in California's virtual charter schools had lower test scores than other students.

Other studies cited by Monaghan raised questions about funding. One characterized virtual charter schools as "a back-door voucher program for home schoolers and other students who have opted out of public education but still want access to the system’s funding..."

To read more about Monaghan's presentation, please click here.

In other business on Wednesday, a BESE committee discussed a $1 million dollar contract to train new teachers, even though, as reporter Will Sentell wrote for The Advocate, some say there is already a "glut of teachers."

A BESE panel also discussed the controversial Science Education Act, which opponents say could open the door to teaching religious dogma instead of science. The panel approved a set of guidelines to be followed if people "object to materials that challenge the teaching of evolution kin public school science classes," according to a report by Will Sentell.

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