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Editorial: State must pay attention to virtual schools

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, December 19, 2016 06:37 am
Indiana has been more willing than almost any other state to be innovative and creative when it comes to public education, creating all sorts of choices for students who stay in the public system and for those who wish to leave it. That is a good thing. But as we have said here more than once, the state has an obligation to closely monitor those experiments so the ones that aren’t working can be terminated. Too often, government programs end up with their very existence being the only justification for them.

And it must be said that the state doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of monitoring when it comes to online education.

When Indiana education officials released school A-F grades last week, only three schools had received F grades for six years in a row, chalkbeat.org reports.

Two were traditional public schools in Gary and Marion County, and the other was Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter school, which does all its teaching and learning online. For the traditional public schools, the sixth straight F marks the first time the state can potentially close the school.

But for charter schools, the limit is set at four, a milestone Hoosier Virtual surpassed almost two years ago. Despite its poor performance, the state has not taken steps to close the school or restrict state funding to its charter authorizer, Ball State University.

And the news gets worse. Every online school in the state that tested students in 2016 — including four charter schools — received an F grade: Hoosier Academy Virtual, Hoosier Academy-Indianapolis, Insight School of Indiana, Indiana Connections Academy, Indiana Virtual School and Wayne Township’s virtual high school.

It is true, as online defenders argue, that many of the 11,000 Hoosier students now in virtual schools are challenged in some way – either with disabilities or having to move around a lot or just not doing well in a traditional classroom. But those are the very students who might benefit from more one-on-one time with an actual instructor. Virtual schools have made an effort to integrate the digital and the personal, but they need to do a lot better.

And the state needs to pay attention. The point of an experiment is to improve what you have. If you don’t honestly rate the experiment, the whole exercise is pointless. 

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