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Cyber Schools Likely to Expand Under Reforms Approved by Michigan Senate

Oakland Schools chief among those in public education urging caution.

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.  Thursday’s bill package eliminates the restrictions on statewide cyber schools and the number of students that 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,” said bill sponsor State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton. “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.

Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie L. Markavitch 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 unintended 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 believed 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, non-profit 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.

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