Comprehensive research has concluded that virtual (online) charter schools produce significantly worse academic results than brick and mortar public schools – either traditional or charter. Online charter schools are run by for-profit businesses that take state funding, cut costs to ensure greater profits, and move kids backward academically. The 2015 CREDO Study of taxpayer-funded, full-time virtual schools nationwide found that students lose 180 days of learning in math (as if they did not attend school at all for a year) and 72 fewer days, or half a year, in reading as compared to their traditional public school peers.
Based on these dismal results, the Walton Family Foundation, one of the earliest and strongest proponents of school choice in the U.S., particularly charter schools, released an official statement in January 2016 acknowledging the failure of virtual charter schools.
“This (CREDO Study) is stark evidence that most online charters have a negative impact on students’ academic achievement. The results are particularly significant because of the reach and scope of online charters: They currently enroll some 200,000 children in 200 schools operating across 26 states. If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth-largest in the country and among the worst-performing. Funders, educators, policymakers, and parents cannot in good conscience ignore the fact that students are falling a full year behind their peers in math and nearly half a school year in reading, annually. For operators and authorizers of these schools to do nothing would constitute nothing short of educational malpractice.”
The fact that this disastrous corporate experiment with public school children’s lives was allowed to continue and grow for more than a decade casts doubt on the work of school choice proponents who annually lobby for state funding of other unproven strategies for privatizing public education. Even now, while condemning the online schools’ disservice to students, the Walton Family Foundation curiously declined to withold support from current or future virtual charter schools; they did, however, commit to asking tougher questions next time.
Some Mississippi legislators have not learned from these lessons regarding full-time virtual learning. New bills have been introduced in the 2016 Legislative Session that would send taxpayer funds to for-profit corporations that will enroll Mississippi children into a full-time, online education program that, like others before it, is destined to harm our students. See House Bill 202 and House Bill 1080.
There is practically no accountability for full-time online schools. Because all schoolwork is done online, virtual teachers have no idea whether students are doing the work or whether parents or tutors are actually completing the exercises to inflate grades. Test scores are abysmal and here’s the real rub: it is impossible to verify average daily attendance – the measure that drives funding to schools. The virtual charter simply sends a bill, and the state or local school district has to fork over the state and local funding for the number of students the virtual claims to have enrolled. There is no way to count heads or determine whether or not students are actually attending. It is akin to turning on a funding spigot and allowing out-of-state for-profit businesses to rake in hordes of state funding – all while diminishing student achievement.
One of the earliest states to experiement with virtual charter schools, Pennsylvania paid virtual school companies $10,000 per student only to find that 100% of the cyber schools had “significantly worse” outcomes than their traditional public school counterparts. The performance of these schools has not improved over time. In 2013-2014, the most recent year for which data is available, all of Pennsylvania’s virtual charter schools failed to meet state benchmarks.
Research on for-profit and virtual schools:
2011 Stanford University CREDO Study
Media coverage of online schools, including dismal results and fraudulent practices:
Those Helping Write Virtual School Policy Positioned to Profit From It