The Michigan Senate on Thursday passed a package of bills that could expand the use of cyber schools that allow students to do more learning at home.
The six bills passed 20-18, and are the latest in a wave of sweeping changes to education in Michigan since the summer. The bill package passed Thursday eliminates restrictions on statewide cyber schools and the number of students who can earn academic credits by learning via Internet. The bills also eliminated a requirement that these students also had to be enrolled in a public school.
“Cyber schools are another option we have in reforming our education system in Michigan so that we are meeting the varied needs of all of our students,” bill sponsor State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said. “These schools provide a free, public education to students that can be tailored to address each child’s strengths and weaknesses while providing increased one-on-one communication with a teacher.”
But local public education officials are less than enthused.
Superintendent Michael Simeck warned Thursday during his State of the City address that the bill would allow for-profit, out-of-state cyber schools to drain resources from local school districts. In addition, Simeck said, the schools are not required to have locally elected boards, which means many of them have no accountability to residents.
"This is a 'solution' for urban districts being applied to everyone across the state," he said. "I want to encourage you to get involved. You can make the difference."
Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie L. Markavitch also encouraged parents to lobby their legislators not to support the sweeping reforms in a podcast posted on the Oakland Schools website earlier this month.
In her 12-minute video, Markavitch warns of consequences that can’t be foreseen without proper research.
“Reform means change, and although no one ever intends to make things worse, the wrong reform and the wrong change can do just that,” she said. “There’s little evidence that those proposing reforms have even studied the research.”
She said she believes the changes seemed based more on ideology rather than on proven results, and quoted two studies about successful reforms in other countries.
Colbeck said there’s no evidence current students at cyber academies are lagging behind.
“Currently, students in Michigan’s two cyber schools are performing as well as or better than the statewide average for the MEAP test,” he said.
Cyber schools must be approved by the superintendent of public instruction and are governed by independent, nonprofit boards, school district boards or public charter school boards, according to a news release from the senate offices. The classes are held to the same certification standards, curriculum requirements and testing requirements as other public schools in Michigan.
The bills now go to the State House for consideration.
Berkley Patch editor Leslie Ellis contributed to this report.