I'm sure we'll have much to say about these other charters in days and weeks to come. But let's take a minute now to appreciate what just happened here:The state’s first proposed full-time virtual charter school will have to wait at least year to begin educating students.The state Department of Education today announced approval of nine new charter schools for September, but said the New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School, a full-time online charter school, would instead be given a "planning" year to further develop "academic and operational components."However, two offering a mix of online and traditional learning did receive approval. Both Newark Prep and Merit Preparatory of Newark Charter School intend to offer "blended" learning in a school setting, Newark Prep serving high school students, and Merit Prep starting by enrolling sixth-graders.Another full-time virtual school, Monmouth County-based New Jersey Virtual Charter School, requested an additional planning year, as did Merit Preparatory of Trenton, also a blended school.Seven "regular" charter schools were also approved to open in September, following a final "preparedness" review. This will bring the state total of charter schools 86. [emphasis mine]
A fully on-line virtual charter, backed by politically powerful people, was ready to be rammed down the throats of New Jersey's citizens with virtually no public input, oversight, or regulation. But within the space of just a couple of weeks, a perfect storm emerged:
- Virtual charter scandals started popping up all over the rest of the country, particularly in Pennsylvania.
- A coalition of disparate interest groups, seeing the threat unaccountable and profit-driven virtual schools posed to New Jersey's schools, put aside their differences and banded together.
- The NJ education netroots did a series of reports that cast gave doubt on the entire enterprise; the MVP for this was the invaluable Mother Crusader, Darcie Cimarusti.
That wasn't enough to stop the blended models, but the real threat here was a fully virtual school that could spread throughout the state. I have grave doubts about the brick-and-morter virtuals that were approved, but at least we can monitor them, and they can't leave their sending districts.
I want to be clear about something: I am not saying there isn't a place for high-quality on-line instruction. What I am saying is that the for-profit, educationally dubious model pitched by K12 Inc and others needs serious vetting before we consider it even on a trial scale.
Those of us in the "real reform" movement in New Jersey are not getting everything we want - but we have actually had a very good month or two. We stopped Regis Academy Charter, a blow for local control. We got a tenure reform bill that still has problems, but lost its most pernicious parts. Now we've stopped the first fully virtual charter in the state from being approved without serious oversight.
There's much to do, but we're not doing it alone anymore. Darcie, Deb, Kendal, Blue Jersey, SOSNJ - with an assist from national heavy hitter Diane Ravitch - and yours truly all helped win this. The education netroots has become a serious partner for established real reformers like the ELC, the unions, the Garden State Coalition, and others.
Let's keep it up!
I'm sorry, Dave, but I'm not coming to New Jersey this year...