West Virginia Board of Education member Stan Maynard made an astute observation last week during a meeting at which the board authorized legislation allowing online-only charter schools.
He noted how education leaders and Gov. Jim Justice had demanded schools reopen to in-person learning in January, when the pandemic was still raging, using the argument that online education was inadequate. So, naturally, authorizing charter schools that are completely online and lack the same accountability as public schools seemed counterintuitive.
“I just have a concern we’ve opened Pandora’s Box and somebody can step through,” he said.
It’s pretzel logic, much in the same vein of Republican legislators mocking COVID-19 precautions during the legislative session, but using the threat of the virus as an excuse to keep the public out while checking off long-time wish-list items — charter schools among them.
Maynard wasn’t concerned enough to vote against the policy changes — which also allow for more brick-and-mortar charter schools in the state, and establish a non-elected committee to approve those charters so they can bypass the authority of local school boards. Debra Sullivan was the only board member to vote no.
Still, a good point is a good point. Pandora’s Box is open. Many GOP legislators wanted public money for private charters, with the spiteful bonus of sticking it to the unions that represent public school teachers. They got it.
What did they really win? Well, the studies say poorer education results for children in a state with the third-oldest population in the country and the largest loss of population over the past 10 years.
In a column last year, University of Notre Dame sociology professor Mark Berends noted that, in Indiana, when children went from public school to online charters, “these kids’ achievement drops like a ton of bricks.”
Berends authored a peer-reviewed study on Indiana’s online charter schools, which found the student-to-teacher ratio was approximately 100 to one.
The Stanford University Center for Research on Education also found that online charters didn’t make the grade in a study, with center director Margaret E. Raymond telling The Washington Post, “It is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”
Yet another study, from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found that online charter students in Ohio were lower achieving than public school students and didn’t perform as well on standardized testing.
Again, though, the best and most recent evidence is that West Virginia’s own leaders — such as Justice and state schools superintendent Clayton Burch — told the entire state in January that kids had to go back to school, because online learning was failing them.
But unbridled, unchecked online charters are now apparently good for the state’s children? Some of these folks probably need a chiropractor after all of that contortion.