On November 13, 2011, Ali Carr-Chellman (@aac3 on Twitter) shared an important and courageous message at TEDxPSU. Her 13.5 minute message was titled, “A Closer Look at Cyber Charter Schools.” Among other things, Ali challenges us to question the growing nexus between non-profit “cyber charter schools” and for-profit curriculum companies. As we continue hear different voices with different agendas champion both charter schools as well as online educational options, Ali’s message is vital.

CyberCharters relationship to For-Profit Curriculum Companies

Here in Oklahoma, where our newly elected state superintendent for public instruction established our state’s first charter school, we are living in the midst of tumultuous and dynamic times for public schools. Recent state laws, enacted so Oklahoma would be eligible to apply for Race To The Top grant funds, have enabled new cyber charter schools like Epic One on One Charter School to operate with public funds. Rather than require parents to pay for a specific online curriculum option, Epic provides parents with a variety of choices. As Ali points out in her TEDx presentation, however, all of these curriculum companies (as far as I know) are FOR-PROFIT corporations. The purchase of commercial curriculum resources by schools isn’t anything new, but the “gold rush” which Ali describes for cyber schools and online curriculum IS. The questions she raises about public funds, public schools, and the ways limited tax dollars are (in some cases) now supporting single-curriculum vendor cyber charter schools are challenging.

Check out Ali’s presentation and follow her on Twitter. I found the way she approached these topics in her speech quite disarming as well as effective. These are controversial and important issues. I need to learn more and Ali has challenged me to do more research.

Ali’s October 2010 TEDxTalk, “Gaming to re-engage boys in learning,” was posted to Ted.com in January 2011.

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  • Mark Ahlness

    Wes, thanks for this post. Am now following Ali. Her important message about cyber charters is yet one more wake up call. Part of the reason I have fallen off the edtech blogging  bandwagon the past couple of years is because of what she sees happening – and more. 
    Computers held so much promise for public schools just a couple of years ago, it seemed. Now they are the instruments for the standardized testing mania that is destroying public education in the US. Kids can get an “education” at home with a charter school. Or they can stay in public school, where the vast majority of computer use is for high stakes testing – or high stakes test prep programs.Where is the room/time for creativity and innovation? I have not given up with the children I teach. My motto, from Deborah Meier, guides my approach to teaching every day: “…push the envelope as far as we can; find the cracks, close our doors, and creatively resist the madness” – Markhttp://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2011/11/dear_diane_like_you_i.html 

  • http://wfryer.wpengine.com Wesley Fryer

    Mark: Thanks for replying on this. I definitely agree we need to ‘take back the computer labs’ from the accountability lobby. Here in Oklahoma where we have a very active “Creativity Project” with lots of partners you’d like we’d be taking a stand against this madness in the name of creativity and innovation. We are in the process of developing a ‘creativity index’ which is meant to help parents and other constituents see more than standardized test scores… but how that will turn out in terms of its practical effects remains to be seen.

    I like that motto. Thanks for passing it along. I hope you and your family have had a great holiday break.

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