I would like to alert the public to a growing concern in education. Virtual charter or “online” schools have been in operation in Oklahoma since 2011. Although they do provide an educational resource for some students and parents, it is my opinion that they fail many more families than they help.
Anecdotally, having served as a public school administrator for the past 22 years, I have seen many of our students leave the public school to go to virtual school, only to return to us later with little or no credits. It has taken years to get this information, but we are finally hearing actual figures for virtual schools’ success or lack thereof.
Here are some of the major problems that I and other public educators are seeing. It is inexcusable for virtual schools to keep students on their class rolls (for the money) until the last day of testing and then drop them because the students have not tested. We now know that less than 40% of virtual students are actually tested. The state requires that public schools test at least 95% of our students. Online schools should not be allowed to get away with that.
In addition, online graduation rates are finally being exposed. Virtual schools also graduate less than 40% of their student population. That's terrible! Any public school that did that would be closed.
Public schools' graduation rates are also harmed because when the virtual students return to public school, they are almost always behind in credits and can't graduate on time. This makes public schools’ graduation rates much lower because the virtual schools didn't do their job.
Virtual schools also receive the same funding per pupil that public schools do even though online schools don’t have to pay for “brick and mortar” buildings to have class, buses for transportation, cafeteria workers, custodians, and the list goes on. Why should they receive the same funding when their overhead is much, much less? This only takes funding away from public school students.
Finally, it should be very telling when teachers sign a contract to work for one particular Oklahoma online school, they are required to sign a NON-DISCLOSURE agreement about their business practices. These "for profit" organizations apparently have much to hide.
Parents, if you have children currently enrolled in a virtual school, I hope you thoroughly scrutinize the services that you are being provided. Please don’t let your student fall between the cracks. And, if you are considering using an online school for your child, please ask lots of questions about their ACTUAL graduation rates, school testing rates and dropout procedures.
House members will soon be voting on two bills requiring greater inquiry of virtual schools. I urge you to contact your legislators and ask them to vote, "yes" on House Bills 1395 and 1229. I apologize for the rant but our children’s education is too important to ignore.
Larry R. Johnson, Superintendent
Burns Flat-Dill City Public Schools
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