I have something positive to say about the Walton Foundation report on online charters. Yes, it is true that the Foundation has spent billions of dollars on school choice and launched many online charter schools. They decided to evaluate their investment, however, and the results were very disturbing.
In three studies commissioned by the Walton Foundation, charter online schools are a failure. The CREDO study found that online students achieved the equivalent of 180 fewer days in math and 72 days in reading compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools.
The report urged some key questions be asked when new online charter schools are being considered:
- What do virtual charters look like? Students must spend time in live, synchronous ways with teachers. Students spend less time with teachers in a whole week than with traditional schools in a day.
- What are proposed student teacher ratios? Currently, there are too many students per teacher in online charters.
- What are the parent roles? Schools cannot abdicate responsibility for monitoring students. Parents may not expect to monitor their children. A better collaborative system should be developed.
Charter authorizers must take action when online schools are failing.
- Shorter review cycles of charter success rates should be implemented. Many charters survive for years which should be closed.
- Observation of instruction should occur in a systematic manner.
- Understanding parent expectations is needed for developing a system to monitor student progress.
- Guarding against pushing out weaker students rather than helping them learn is necessary.
- Funding for performance and tracking enrollments monthly would reduce tendencies to charge fees for students who are not enrolled.
The Walton Foundation closes its report with this quote: The data from this study do not lie: Online education must be reimagined. Ignoring the problem–or worse, replicating failures serves nobody. This says it all.