Some teachers cool on cyber school idea

When Connections Academy, the Baltimore-based for-profit outfit that operates full-time online public schools, put down stakes in 2005 in Oregon, teachers objected loudly. Among their complaints --- the company is a for-profit business, has student-teacher ratios of 50-to-1 and depends on parents to serve as quasi-teachers, spending hours a day providing the kind of hands-on instruction that normally happens in the classroom, according to local news reports. In its first year, Oregon's program had 700 students and was said to be on the verge of doubling that enrollment within the year.

As I report in today's Sun, the Baltimore County public school system plans to test Connections Academy, starting this week with home-schooled students. (See the county's page at the company's website.) The goal is to enroll as many as 200 students for this year-long pilot phase. Students will be expected to meet all of the state's public school requirements --- such as completing 180 days of class and taking all of the state's standardized tests.

Contacted last night, the head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County said she can envision a place for Connections Academy within the local school system as "a support" to students who might find themselves needing an extended absence from a traditional school, but not something that would be open to the general student population.

Cheryl Bost, TABCO president, added:

"We value more teacher-to-student interaction in the public schools, as opposed to taking taxpayer money and giving it to a company. We're not supportive of it being a replacement" for traditional schools.

A significant drawback, she added, is that if the company is unsuccessful with a student, that child would return to a brick-and-mortar school, forcing teachers to pick up the pieces.

Some wonder why a home-schooling family would want to sign up for a program that would return them to the public school way. Others figure it'll give these parents and students the best of both worlds --- access to public school resources on their own territory, in their own homes. Still others question what business do people have enjoying the benefits of the school system they decided to leave for whatever reasons, be they philosophical or practical.

Teachers, parents, students --- what do you think? Does Connections Academy present an opportunity or an obstacle for public education?

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