Dithering and Delay in New Jersey Denies Students Important Schooling Options

Last week I, along with my colleague, Innosight Institute Education research assistant Charity Eyre, authored an op-ed titled “State has virtually no reason to not give online charter schools a shot” in The Star-Ledger in New Jersey about a proposed moratorium on virtual charter schools in the state. In the piece, we discuss New Jersey’s Assembly Bill 3105, which would block approval of virtual charters for one year while a study of the general effectiveness of full-time online schooling is conducted. The bill has passed the Assembly and is currently up for consideration in the Senate.

Our ultimate takeaway? Policymakers’ fear of virtual school is unfounded, and this legislation would only block innovation in New Jersey to the detriment of its students. Full-time virtual schools are one small but important part of transforming our current education system from today’s monolithic state that standardizes teaching for students into a student-centric one that can customize for each child.

New Jersey policymakers are too concerned about “on-average” research and should focus instead on providing the right options for every individual student. A moratorium would only deny the state’s students an important option for yet another year.

Our research also shows that full-time virtual schooling will only ever be utilized by a small percentage of students. Worrying about its impact to the point of delaying the opening of virtual charter schools, which provide an option that is critical for some students’ success, does not make sense.

This is an issue that doesn’t just affect students in New Jersey. Policymakers in many states are expressing fear of virtual charters for a variety of reasons. A superior court judge in North Carolina recently ruled against the establishment of a virtual charter school after many expressions of worry about funding and effectiveness. Bruce Friend framed the issue well in a recent piece for Getting Smart. Last month in Maine, applications from two virtual charters were held for the 2013-14 cycle because of commissioners’ concerns about school governance. There has been similar dithering in Georgia.

Policymakers’ anxiety is misplaced. States are right to be concerned about how to best regulate virtual charter schools—they ought to measure their results based on the growth of individual students and shut down poorly performing ones. But blocking or delaying the option of full-time online schooling because of a fear of lack of research isn’t the right tact to take. States should encourage innovation in order to meet students’ individual needs and set up the regulatory environment that rewards providers for doing that well.

-Michael Horn

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

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