NJ court gives green light to charters that offer online instruction

April 10, 2014

Ben Velderman Ben Velderman

Ben is a communications specialist for EAG and joined in 2010. He is a former member of the Michigan Education Association.
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NEWARK, N.J. – As much as teacher unions hate charter schools, they dislike cyber schools – or online learning programs – even more.

online learningSo when New Jersey officials gave their blessing to two charter schools that make heavy use of online instruction back in 2012, it was no surprise that the New Jersey Education Association – the state’s largest teachers union – filed a lawsuit to shut those schools down.

The NJEA’s official argument was that the state’s charter school law did not allow for “blended learning” instruction. The union’s position was that online instruction is illegal simply because it isn’t expressly permitted under charter school law.

On Wednesday, the state appellate court unanimously rejected the union’s argument.

“The (charter school) Act does not make reference to any specific teaching method,” the court’s three-member panel said in its opinion. “If online teaching methods are prohibited because they are not expressly mentioned, then it follows that all novel teaching methods not prescribed by the Act are prohibited.”

The court’s decision “clears the way not only for the two schools in question, Newark Preparatory School and Merit Preparatory School, to continue their operations, but also for potential expansion of online instruction,” reports NJSpotlight.com.

NJEA leaders say they will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. The union may also work with legislators to prevent blended learning by changing the charter school law.

NJSpotlight.com notes that Wednesday’s “decision doesn’t touch upon the question of whether the state can allow entirely online or so-called virtual schools. The Christie administration has so far balked at allowing such schools, in part questioning whether they are allowed under existing law.”

We don’t understand why lawmakers would hesitate to approve so-called virtual schools.

Admittedly, such schools aren’t going to meet the needs of parents who want their children to have a traditional, classroom-based learning experience.

But virtual schools will meet the needs of others who want their kids to have access to a variety of unique and specialized classes that most schools simply cannot afford to offer.

Online learning also benefits advanced and struggling students alike who want to move through the curriculum at their own pace.

And there are a lot of kids who drop out who might just go back and get a diploma if they can do so at a keyboard in their own home.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Parents should be allowed to decide which school option makes the most sense for their children.

State officials should “let a thousand flowers bloom,” so to speak, by allowing online schools set up shop in the Garden State. The marketplace will determine if these schools flourish or fail.

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