Connections Academy and K12 Inc are moving forward with their plans to set up online-only schools in Iowa. The companies will take advantage of the state’s open enrollment law to recruit students from all over Iowa to their new schools, and the initial advertising campaign is already bearing fruit. According to the Town Talk, hundreds of families have already sent in enrollment forms.
Students who “attend” will remain at home and receive all instruction through the Internet. A kindergartner could go to school 13 years and never set foot in a classroom. The private companies insist this is not a home-school program so they can collect almost all of the nearly $6,000 in per pupil education funding for these students.
This victory for the companies is hard-fought. As recently as last month, the State House hearings on online school expansion plans degenerated into chaos after claims of hurt feelings and accusations of disrespect. Representative Mary Marches walked out of the hearing after she claimed that Connections Academy CEO Barbara Dreyer had used an inappropriate tone of voice when answering questions. The hearing had to be adjourned for the day.
Despite the setback, the Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller issued the opinion that online schools are legal in the state, giving Connections and K12 the green light to proceed.
However, critics are still raising concerns about schools that completely remove the socialization component of education.
Young people need interaction in the real world to get a well-rounded education. Students can’t recreate school chemistry labs in their living rooms, even if one of the companies is mailing them goggles. A kindergartner who cannot read also cannot instant message or email a teacher. The quality of the education provided by these schools is in question.
Miller’s opinion on the legality of online schools is very narrow and doesn’t specifically apply to the two companies planning to operate in Iowa. Whether Connections and K12 actually meet the operational requirements won’t be known until the schools actually start operating this fall.