New York Times Columnist Misses the Mark


No doubt getting a preview of a NYT piece yet to come, Gail Collins uses her column to question the validity of online public schools (for everyone except middle class homeschoolers), and tries to make her case using some flimsy arguments, and familiar critics:

  • Kevin Welner from the union-funded National Education Policy Center who dismisses the extensive research in the field of online learning as nothing but “a couple of blog entries.”  These reports, evaluations, and studies don’t look like blogs to me.

  • A legislator in Tennessee who incorrectly claimed the state’s e4TN supplemental course program was cut because of new legislation expanding districts’ ability to offer online programs (e4TN was funded through a federal program that was eliminated in a bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama – a move that K12 Inc. and other ed tech advocates opposed).

But what is most disappointing is her apparent view that only the most advantaged children should have access to these public school options.  Set aside the fact that online public schools, like all public schools, can’t discriminate based on a child’s socioeconomic status, is she suggesting parents are incapable of making good educational decisions for their children because they live in low-income areas? 

Ms. Collins called me to talk about this issue.  She seemed baffled that students who reside in one district could choose to enroll in schools from another district without requiring permission from officials to leave.  I ran through a list of states that for many years have provided families open enrollment across district lines, including in Tennessee, to give parents more freedom to choose the public school that is best for their children. 

She seemed equally baffled, and annoyed, that students from Philadelphia to rural parts of Tennessee would choose online public schools.  I explained how online public schools serve all types of students with a range of academic needs – from advanced learners to students that dropped-out of school; providing blended learning opportunities, and teacher-led services designed to support students and families where they are.

I told her online public schools are an option for children; a choice for parents.  They are not a requirement.  While certainly not for everyone, there are many cases of children with special needs, victims of bullying, and other circumstances where online schools provided the best, safest, and sometimes only, public school option. 

She told me she spoke with a lot of people for her column, so I offered to put her in touch with some families, including from low-income neighborhoods, to hear directly from them and why they chose online public schools.  She did not accept.