Three studies are combined in a report about online charter school achievement (or lack thereof). The result is sobering. Interesting that these research institutes are funded by pro reform foundations. They are concerned and we need to be vigilant.
The Mathematica Report describes online charter schools, their students and their practices. Highlights include:
- 60% of online schools report that more than half of their courses are self paced. One third of the schools offer only self paced courses.
- A large majority of schools grant credit based on mastery, not seat time.
- Schools typically have less teacher contact time in one week than traditional schools have in one day.
- Online schools place significant responsibilities on parents.
- Maintaining student engagement is the biggest challenge.
Policy Framework for Online Schools reviews policies and management improvement strategies.
- Two thirds of online charters contract with for-profit management firms. These firms often have strong lobbying forces to fight regulation. Companies often receive a percentage of revenue which can incentivize lower quality standards.
- Only 5 of 27 states fund charters based on course completion.
- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia require online courses in K12.
- Colorado, North Carolina, and Oklahoma have better regulation and accountability. Online education should be taken out of charter framework.
- 27.7% of the online for profit company K12 Inc. students met 2010=11 annual yearly progress standard compared with 52% average for traditional public schools.
- In 2014, NCAA no longer accepts course credit from 24 K12 Inc. schools.
CREDO Online Charter School Study acknowledges that online learning is a good option for some, but not most atypical students. The study reviews the impact on academic progress of online studies, the relationship between the type of online school and student achievement, and the relationship between state policies and academic achievement results. The study compared ‘matched’ sets of students in online and traditional schools. Charter online students tend to return to public schools in two years.
- Twenty two percent of online charter school students eventually return to public schools.
- Academic gains, on average, for online charter school students in math (-180 days) and reading (-72 days) are significantly lower than for traditional public school students matched by demographic characteristics. The impact was less negative for ELL and special education students.
- Online students in Michigan and Wisconsin, however, perform better than their matched sets in traditional public schools.
- Some self paced courses improves performance but 100% self paced courses in a school has a negative impact on achievement.
- Teacher monitoring of performance improves achievement gain. Parent involvement in student online instruction has a negative impact on learning.
- In reading, access to recordings of lectures and in math, access to paper textbooks had positive effects on achievement.
- Allowing mastery based credit has a negative impact on achievement gain.
- Access to special education faculty had a positive effect, but tutors did not.
Overall, the study concludes that online charter schools have significantly lower achievement gains than matched traditional public schools. Few online school practices have a strong impact on student achievement other than those cited above. Changes in state policy do have an impact as in Wisconsin and Michigan, but more study is needed to tease out specific policies that can improve performance.