On January 26, the Chicago Board of Education approved the establishment of the Chicago Virtual Charter School (CVCS), a hybrid online school and “bricks and mortar” facility. Approval of the proposal is now pending before the Illinois State Board of Education.
The Chicago board has been approving new schools as part of its Renaissance 2010 program, which aims to create 100 new schools over the next four years “by replacing low-performing schools with schools that provide new educational options to underserved communities, and reliev[e] overcrowding in communities experiencing rapid growth,” according to a November 16, 2005, news release.
“We want to offer diverse and innovative opportunities for every student in the system,” explained Chicago Public Schools (CPS) spokesman Malon Edwards. “We want to make sure that every child has a chance to learn, and this school could provide opportunities for those who are gifted, those who struggle academically, students who might be homebound because of a medical condition, or for other reasons.”
CPS currently enrolls approximately 425,000 students.
National Operation, Local Oversight
The nonprofit CVCS would be operated by K12, Inc., a for-profit company headquartered in Virginia that provides curriculum for virtual schools in 12 states and a dozen school districts nationwide with intra-district programs. CVCS’s charter was approved for five years. Its first board will be composed of parents of the students enrolled in the school, and board appointments are not subject to approval by the Chicago Board of Education.
K12 also provides curriculum and management services for the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School (PAVCS), started in 2001. The 4,800 students enrolled in the PAVCS receive computers, textbooks, and other academic material from K12 and are assigned to a teacher who works with the parent or guardian overseeing the educational program. Chicago’s plans call for a similar arrangement, but with one important difference.
“This model will include a ‘brick and mortar setting’ where students can meet teachers and get additional services,” said Jeff Kwitowski, director of public relations for K12.
During the first year, up to 600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade could enroll in CVCS. They would receive a computer, texts, and other materials. An adult or guardian will work with them as they go through the program.
Tracking Instruction Time
Illinois state law requires students to receive 300 minutes of instruction each day. Edwards said the CVCS proposal was tabled at the Chicago Board of Education’s November meeting because of questions regarding that requirement. But Kwitowski said the online model actually lends itself well to tracking instructional time.
“An online school tracks attendance and work that is done each day. We’ve tracked work by students in other online schools, and our teachers can see what students are doing,” Kwitowski said. “We take accountability very seriously.”
However, the minutes-per-day instruction requirement remains a concern for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).
“How will we know that these kids are getting an education? Who will be the parents or guardians assisting the students, and how will we know that they’ll be able to help the students with this program?” asked CTU publicist Rosemaria Genova.
Other Union Concerns
“Who’s going to make sure that the laptops are not stolen and sold for drugs?” Genova continued. “What about families without phone lines? Will those be paid for by the school district? And how will students be able to use the office, which will be located downtown?”
The CTU also expressed concern about the school’s funding. According to the Chicago Board of Education, CVCS will receive approximately $5,075 per student from Chicago Public Schools during the 2006-07 academic year. The CTU contends the proposal has not been clear about the total amount CVCS with receive, and that CVCS could ultimately receive much more funding.
At press time, the Illinois State of Board Education was still considering the proposal.
Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Meta Minton said that though discussions were continuing, the state had not received a formal proposal from the Chicago Board of Education by late February, and so was unable to place it on a future meeting agenda.
Michael Coulter ([email protected]) teaches political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
For more information …
For more information on virtual classrooms, see
“Virtual Classrooms Abound on Internet,” School Reform News, September 2005, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=17651.
“Just the Facts: Calif. Virtual Schools Offer Bennett’s K12 Program,” School Reform News, October 2001, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=10169.