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January 2013 Policy Study, Number 13-1


School Choice: Not if the Unions Have Any Say


Criticisms of Online Education



Throughout the campaign against online government schools, nationwide and in Iowa, the same themes voiced by critics are remarkably consistent:


• For-profit education management organizations servicing online schools are unduly profiting from taxpayer dollars.


In reality, online schools are not “for-profit” schools. The Clayton Ridge and CAM districts are contracting with a vendor to provide the curriculum and teaching services. The vendor is not the “school,” the vendor is the education service provider. The students will receive their degrees from the normal, accredited school.


The United States spends over $500 billion a year on traditional school districts – much of this money goes to “profit-making” businesses. For decades districts nationwide and in Iowa have paid private, for-profit companies for products and services. Thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money is used for products and services such as school construction, busing, food, textbooks, computers and technology, and instructional services.[15]


These companies, some major, national corporations such as McGraw-Hill and Scholastic, all make a profit from taxpayer dollars. Others are local, small businesses who provide such services as lawn mowing, printing services, electrical and plumbing repairs, bus drivers, instrument repair, or food products. Companies that provide curriculum, staffing, or other support for non-profit online schools are in the same category as these traditional and accepted suppliers.


• Taxpayer money intended to achieve academic objectives is being diverted to business purposes such as advertising.


About 80 percent of online school funds go to costs related to student instruction. This compares favorably to traditional brick-and-mortar schools.[16] A corollary argument could also be made concerning the advertising and business purposes costs of companies which provide construction, landscaping, transportation, textbooks, food, printing, athletic and music equipment, and other important support for brick-and-mortar schools. These businesses all make a profit and all use the money paid to them by schools for their services, for expenses such as advertising.


• Government school options create a dual system.


Online schools are helping hundreds of thousands of students of all backgrounds succeed.[17] Children with special needs or medical conditions and those struggling in traditional classrooms are part of this group. So are victims of bullying, violence, or other negative social issues in traditional schools.


Online education also often benefits advanced learners, kids who are frequently bored by the regimented pace and one-size-fits-all teaching approach of traditional schools. A major complaint of many parents is that their child’s individual needs are not being met in traditional settings – online schools effectively address this issue.


• Many choice schools are poor quality and have academic failings.


There is evidence to suggest that online schools may outperform many brick-and-mortar schools. A 2009 U.S. Department of Education report concluded that “students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”[18]


The teachers providing the education through online schools are licensed, just as “regular” school teachers are. They are qualified to teach students.


Additionally, the academic failings of the “regular” schools are well documented. Students who choose alternative education options are by definition not satisfied with what they have received so far, and this may be reflected in poor achievement scores or grades. Evidence of a students’ success should be based on their individual growth over time. The point is that cookie-cutter educational approaches do not work, and we must provide options that best serve every child.


• Students lack adequate opportunities to learn through social interactions.


National studies show that students in online schools are as well socialized as students in traditional schools.[19] In fact, many students who suffer negative social experiences in traditional schools find healthy and positive socialization in online schools. Beyond the virtual classroom, online schools can offer social opportunities for students such as field trips, school clubs, and other extracurricular activities very much like traditional schools.[20]


As one example, the Indiana Connections Academy offers group eco-tours, cultural, history, government, and math/science field-trip opportunities, as well as volunteer and service activities, robotics, debate, and chess clubs.[21]




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