This post briefly reviews Rose M. Marsh, Alison A. Carr-Chellman, and Beth R. Stockman, “Selecting Silicon: Why Parents Choose Cybercharter Schools” in TechTrends 53, no. 4 (July 2009): 32-36 [available here]
Carr-Chellman and two of her doctoral students here report the results of interviews they conducted with seven cybercharter parents to find out why conservative homeschoolers are embracing this option.
The authors begin with a general orientation to the cybercharter phenomenon, noting that as of 2008 twenty states had statewide, full-time, online public schools. About 1 million students were enrolled in online learning in 2008, and some experts predict that by 2014 about 10% of all public school classes will be delivered online.
But why are so many parents choosing this model of education for their children? The authors especially wonder why homeschoolers, who tend to be conservative, would be on the forefront of this radical educational experiment. To answer the question of why conservative homeschoolers are choosing cybercharters, the authors interviewed seven mothers whose children are enrolled in the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School (PAVCS), which uses the K12 curriculum.
They found that parents have three main motivations for enrolling their children in cyber charters. First, parents love the individual tailoring and easy communication with teachers that the online environment allows. Second, free curriculum, computer, and stipend for internet hook-up is an obvious incentive. Third, the switch to online education was a gesture of optimism and hope for their children and, by extension, for the world, made by a group of people who in general are very down on government and bureaucracies like public schools.
This article suffers from some rather annoying defects. Nowhere do the authors state when the interviews were conducted, but it seems from the discussion that they are several years old. Much is made of K12’s affiliation with William Bennett. This affiliation was a major motivator for many of the mothers to enroll their children in PAVCS. But in 2005 K12 distanced itself from Bennett after comments he made that were interpreted by many as racist. Today no one who did not know the history of K12 would have any idea of the Bennett association. This article, though published just last month, thus sounds very dated.
A second annoyance is the repeated expressions of amazement voiced by the authors that conservative homeschoolers would be wiling to take so radical a step as embracing online education. The authors misunderstand the nature of homeschooler “conservativism.” Most homeschoolers are “conservative” in the sense that they reject sexual license and other manifestations of ‘secularism’, reject higher taxes and the Welfare State, but they are not Luddites. Evangelical Christians have been embracing cutting-edge technology since before the Civil War, adapting every new medium to the gospel message. Personal Computers and the internet are just the lateset of a long line of technologies for which such “conservatives” have always been early adopters. The authors would do better, I think, to understand homeschoolers as basically libertarian, not conservative, when it comes to free market technological innovation. Rather than being at odds with their preference for private enterprise over big government, their embrace of online education makes perfect sense. The only oddity is that so many of them are willing to take government money to do it. The authors are either not aware or simply do not mention that there has been a vigorous debate within the conservative homeschool population about the propriety of accepting government funds for online education. HSLDA and its affiliates have long been opposed to cyber charters, seeing them as a Trojan horse designed by malevolent public school people to destroy the homeschooling movement.
In close, while this article poses a good question, and its three answers are I think pretty accurate, its small data set give it very little generalizability, and its discussion only dilutes its core contribution.