BOE move forces delay to ‘virtual learning’ for charter schools
The Board of Education has put off adopting an official policy on "virtual learning" in charter schools, likely dashing the hopes of schools that wanted to begin enrolling online-based students for the coming school year.
The board had been considering a policy that would have allowed charter schools to enroll up to 30 percent of their student body as "virtual students" and would have laid the groundwork for implementing the concept.
But members balked over a range of concerns, and on Thursday the board sent the idea back to its charter school committee. Even if a revised policy were to be passed soon, individual schools will not have time to gain board permission for virtual schooling for the 2006-07 year, said Jim Shon, executive director of the Charter School Administration Office.
"It's looking temporally challenged now," he said.
"Virtual learning," in which students receive some or all of their instruction via computer networks or the Internet and submit their schoolwork the same way, is seen as a possible partial solution to the operational problems encountered by Hawaii's 27 charter schools, many of which are bedeviled by tight funding and insufficient or substandard facilities.
Charter schools, a number of which have large waiting lists of students seeking admission, gain additional funding with each pupil enrolled but would not have to provide virtual students with a bricks-and-mortar classroom.
Several charter schools sought board permission to start virtual schooling last year but were turned down, partly due to the lack of an official board policy.
The concept is quickly catching on nationwide. Among its key advantages is that students can work at a more individualized pace, Shon said.
But board members deferred action on the proposed policy after raising concerns over the social impact on children, educational efficacy, whether such learning is right for very young students, and its untested nature.
Only one Hawaii school currently has explicit permission to offer virtual schooling, the 880-student Myron B. Thompson Academy based in Kakaako, which was chartered on the concept.
This amounts to a "monopoly," said Susan Osborne, principal of the Big Island's Kua O Ka La charter school.
The Pahoa school was among those seeking approval last year, arguing that some of its 55 students commute long distances to attend, and others come from poor backgrounds and need the flexibility of virtual learning to hold down jobs.
Osborne notes that the U.S. Department of Education advocates greater use of online education and the technological expertise it fosters.
"I wish there was a little more awareness from our state board on what's going on nationally. Do we want to compete in a globalized world or have everything be outsourced?" she asked.