‘Improve your schools’ – Todd Ziebarth, podcastED

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For critics of a report calling for changes to the way states fund and regulate virtual charter schools, Todd Ziebarth has a suggestion: Raise your academic performance.

“The best way to push back on this report is to improve your schools,” he said. “If you have schools that get much better results, we’re not even having this conversation about policy recommendations.”

Ziebarth
Ziebarth

Ziebarth is a senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and lead author of the report, issued by three pro-charter organizations, which called out virtual charters for ” large-scale underperformance.”

Among other things, the report suggests states should limit the growth of virtual charter schools and only allow them to grow if they prove they can perform academically. And it finds virtual charters have signed up too many students who aren’t likely to succeed in a full-time online learning environment.

The pushback has come from online charter school operators and other supporters of the model, who argue they offer an important option that students choose voluntarily.

We unpack some of the report’s recommendations, and the reaction they’ve received, during the latest episode of our weekly podcast.

During the 2014-15 school year, 1,528 Florida students enrolled in full-time virtual charters. The state has multiple part-time online learning options that reached far more students, and virtual charters were considerably smaller than the full-time Florida Virtual School, or the full-time online programs offered by 67 traditional school districts.

However, in some states, especially the “Big Three” — California, Pennsylvania and Ohio — Ziebarth says virtual charters have become massive, with some enrolling thousands of students spread across the state. Their size, combined with their operators’ lobbying and political heft, means closing those schools can be difficult. That, he said, complicates the standard charter school bargain, in which schools get more operational freedom in exchange for a guarantee that if they don’t perform academically, they will be shut down.

Ziebarth said the current situation might trigger a backlash against full-time virtual schooling, an option the groups that issued the report want to preserve. And it could also prompt some states to crack down on for-profit charter school companies.

He said students should have access to full-time virtual schooling. In some cases, that may be through online charter schools. In other cases, it might be through something akin to statewide online magnet schools, which would have more leeway than charters to limit enrollment to self-motivated learners who have adult support — students who would be likely to succeed in a full-time virtual school.podcastED

And Ziebarth said charter school boards should have the right to hire for-profit management companies, as long as they get results in the classroom.

“If the school is doing well and they’re making a profit at the same time, that’s fine,” he said. “If the school is doing poorly and making a profit, that’s a problem.”

The report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 50CAN and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers can be found here. See more reactions to the report from The 74, the American Enterprise Institute, K12 and Connections Education. We’re working on inviting a guest who disagrees with the report’s findings to join a future episode.

Listen below, or subscribe on iTunes.