One District’s Competition Is Another District’s Poaching
A member of a school board in Madison, Wis., has noticed that it pays for districts to set up online schools. The board member deplores the fact that these schools enroll students from outside districts (an act he refers to as “poaching”):
The legislature has created a system that sets up very strong incentives for a school district to contract with some corporate on-line operation, open up a virtual charter school, and set about trying to poach other districts’ students.
He then compares the ACT scores of his district’s students with the scores of an online school’s students. Fewer of the online school’s students took the ACT, and the average score of those who did was about one point lower than the district’s average.
The board member’s use of the word “poach” brings to mind hunters entering a forest illegally and shooting deer. That can’t be what he means, so lets look at the second definition. According to Dictionary.com, “poaching” can also mean “any encroachment on another’s property, rights, ideas, or the like.” Unless the board member has his own definition of the word, it seems that he views students as his district’s property and thinks other schools need permission to educate them anywhere else.
I’m sure the students who attend online schools don’t see themselves as being poached. They know they don’t belong to any school district. Taking online courses is their decision. And while the board member won’t acknowledge that online schools give students a choice, if it weren’t true, there would be no point in comparing test scores as he does in his essay. Telling people that your district has better scores than a competitor makes sense only if students can act on that knowledge and choose for themselves.
The complaints about poaching make the district look defensive and vulnerable. Districts that are doing well don’t panic when someone else offers online education. St. Louis County districts aren’t accusing SLPS of foul play because it enrolls a few of their students in its Virtual School. It would be silly for the districts to get upset when the vast majority of families prefer their brick-and-mortar schools to the SLPS Virtual School.
The board member’s emotional response may indicate that his district is threatened by the online option. Instead of pointing fingers, the Madison Metropolitan School District should consider opening an online school of its own.