Supported by rapid advances in communications and in instructional technology, parents today are finding it easier than ever to educate their children at home, and to reject not only the “free” uniform educational offerings of their local public schools but also other fee-based school choice alternatives offered by religious and secular education providers.
However, as other school choice advocates have found, support from a capable defense lawyer is often necessary to protect the right of parents to educate their children at home.
To shield public schooling’s approximately 85 percent share of the nation’s K-12 students against unwanted competition from any other educational options, the nation’s two teacher unions–the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–have been remarkably successful in fending off a wide variety of school choice initiatives at the federal and state levels. Most recently, union activism was largely responsible for the decisive defeats of voucher referenda in California and Michigan.
However, the teacher unions’ strategy of defending their members against loss of students to traditional private schools may turn out to be the same kind of mistake the French made with the Maginot Line, where the forces the French wanted to block simply went around the obstruction. Today, rapid advances in computer technology appear to have made an end run around teacher union opposition to more conventional forms of school choice. Technology has created a new kind of “virtual” school that delivers its product through the cyberspace of the Internet.
Without the need for school buildings and large teaching staffs–since a parent usually takes over the role of teacher–the price of tuition at these virtual schools is significantly lower than the cost of tuition at a private school. Thus, when dissatisfied with the local public school and seeking another educator for their child, many parents find that instructor not in the Yellow Pages, but in the mirror.
The online schools described below serve not only homeschoolers, but also students in charter schools and students who remain in public schools.
Headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, and founded in 1998, class.com is a privately held company that delivers online courses over the Internet for secondary students throughout the world. The company has enrolled individual students from all 50 states and also supports virtual schools in Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Class.com’s virtual school customers teach 5.3 million students in 6,500 secondary schools across the country.
The company is a spin-off of the University of Nebraska’s 72-year-old Independent Study High School, the oldest accredited correspondence high school.
K12 is a new cyber-school created by former Education Secretary William J. Bennett. It will open this fall and offer a full year of lessons for homeschoolers in grades K-2 for approximately $1,000. Additional grades will be offered each year until 12th grade is added in 2004. The detailed curriculum, based on Bennett’s book, The Educated Child, is being guided by former Core Knowledge Foundation researcher John Holdren. Only about 25 percent of the instructional time in grades K-2 is spent on the computer, with the balance spent offline reading books and doing other school work.
K12 also will manage and provide the curriculum for the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, which is chartered to the Norristown Area School District.
Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
This school opened last fall and has enrolled 500 students from across the state. Each student receives a laptop computer, printer, and textbooks, whose cost is covered by the approximately $7,000 per student per year that each student’s home district must send to the charter holder, the Midland School District. The charter school offers a variety of accredited programs from the University of Missouri, the University of Nebraska, Keystone National, and Calvert.
Florida Online High School
The Florida Online High School is intended for use by homeschooled children, students with scheduling conflicts, advanced placement scholars, and students who want to take courses their schools don’t offer. The state funds the five-year-old school so that courses can be offered at no cost to its growing student body, which is expected to hit 6,000 next year.