Students at all-online “virtual” charter schools do significantly worse than comparable students at brick-and-mortar schools, concludes a 2015 study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Math gains were so poor it was “as though the student did not go to school for the entire year,” CREDO director Macke Raymond told reporters.
In an Education Next forum, Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, argues that Online Charters Expand Learning Options, while Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, counters that Online Charters Mostly Don’t Work.
Both agree that all-online learning works only for highly motivated, self-disciplined students or those with strong parental support.
Both call for linking funding of virtual schools to students’ performance. Virtual charters attract very mobile students. The traditional model often gives virtual schools a full year’s funding for a student who gives it a try for a few weeks or months, then moves on.
They disagree on the validity of the CREDO study.
CREDO doesn’t account adequately for virtual students’ high mobility and learning problems before they enroll, Vander Ark argues.
Better measures of academic growth are needed, he writes. These “would include examining the performance of new and returning students, as well as that of on-time and late-enrolled students; defining full-academic year students; and looking at longitudinal student performance, such as progress toward graduation in 4, 5, and 6 years.”
CREDO found virtual students “showed stronger performance both before and after their tenure in virtual schools,” responds Richmond. Other studies also “have documented dismal outcomes in virtual schools, including low course-completion rates and higher-than-average school dropout rates.”
Last month, three national charter school groups released a report calling for “a better regulatory framework to govern full-time virtual charter schools.”