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Cane toads, virtual schools and unintended consequences

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Cane toads, virtual schools and unintended consequences

In 1935, Australia had a problem with beetles. The bugs were destroying the nation's sugar cane crop, so, to combat the pests, lawmakers introduced over 100 cane toads to the continent.

While the toads took care of the beetles, Australia now has 200 million cane toads and an ongoing problem controlling these amphibians. Cane toads are poisonous and threaten many native species, including snakes and freshwater crocodiles.

"You cannot always predict the results of purposeful action," writes Steven M. Gillon in That's Not What We Meant to Do, a book describing the unintended consequences from many 20th century policies (he cites Australia's toad problem as an illustration of how we need to be saved from our own solutions sometimes).

In Arizona, SB 1259 attempts to remedy a problem with the state's virtual school funding system. Currently, virtual schools receive funding for each student that enrolls, even if the student does not master the material at the end of the course. SB 1259 creates a system similar to Florida's Virtual School, wherein the school receives a sizable percentage of its funding only after a student completes a course and can demonstrate what they have learned.

However, SB 1259 creates an incentive for virtual schools to give all students at least a C-, the mark at which a student has to score in order for the school to receive 85 percent of student funding. Grade inflation could become an unintended consequence of the measure.

SB 1259 addresses important parts of the virtual school law and shows the state's policies are maturing. But lawmakers will have to watch for unintended consequences and be prepared to revise the measure so that it appropriately fits the world of online education.

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