The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported further today on the state Board of Education’s consideration of proposals by 152 school districts and regular charter schools to offer digital instruction or virtual schooling.

The state board is quite concerned about face-to-face instruction, class-size ratios and other strict regulations for these applications and the Education Department has been vetting the applications in great detail.

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Fine. But I fear a double-standard, not only because the Education Department is so philosophical biased toward in-person instruction, at least for real public schools.

The earlier appearance of this rigorous review had already prompted me to ask state board members directly if the rules will apply equally to real school districts — which provide far more in the way of facilities and extras than all-virtual schools. I have not gotten a straight answer as yet.

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By law, the regular school districts may seek every waiver given a charter school, in-person or virtual.

I noted this comment today in the D-G article:

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Education Board member Sarah Moore of Stuttgart told the agency staff that she was appreciative of the presentation but continued to be held up by the fact that state law permits 100% virtual classes to exceed the 150-students-per-teacher cap that is set for traditional classes for grades five through 12.

“What led us to believe we should have such large virtual classes?” Moore asked.

Good question, though it should have been asked long ago when the Board approved the repeated expansion of all-virtual charter schools. The Arkansas Virtual Academy is now approved for 5,500 students and the Arkansas Connections Academy is approved for an expansion to 7,000 students. I don’t recall the discussions of their growth ever receiving the attention conventional school districts are now getting for trying to provide a virtual option on much smaller scales.

The standards demanded of real school districts yesterday should be no different than those demanded of the all-virtual schools. Whatever the state Board eventually requires for the 152 applications, it should be no more rigorous than what is required of the two giant virtual charter schools.

A comment Thursday relative to one application:

Education Board member Ouida Newton of Leola questioned the cooperative’s plan to rely on one teacher and paraprofessional to teach four elementary school subjects to children in as many as three grades.

I’d like to see the state Board review staffing and classloads for the virtual charters.

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