The problem with online charter schools

The problem with online charter schools

November 19, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


Okay. so think back to high school. I know this might be painful, but picture your typical daily schedule. 50-minute blocks,
one for each subject: Chemistry, Geometry, English, etc. This is what the school day
has looked like for most students in the United States for about the last hundred
years, but that’s changing. For a small but growing number of students, the
school day looks more like this. Ten minutes working on a math worksheet
then 15 minutes on an English paper, then 20 minutes on Facebook and then a
three-hour shift bagging groceries. That’s because in 32 states and D.C.,
students of all ages don’t actually have to go to a physical school building.
Instead they can attend online charter schools, full time. In their advertisements, these schools promise students and parents autonomy,
flexibility, and peace of mind. If I didn’t have Florida Virtual School I
probably would have been a dropout. I can start and end work when I want to. After
years of bullying and changing schools I could finally learn at my own pace. There’s just one problem with these schools: for the vast majority of
students they don’t work. The share of American students who attend online
charter schools is small. It’s less than 1%, but enrollment has grown fairly
steadily since 2011 and their growth is part of a wider movement in public
education known as “school choice”. It’s the idea that parents should have
options beyond the neighborhood public school. It’s a notion that education
secretary Betsy DeVos has championed for years. The more choices we have, the more
competition we have, but also the better product. Like traditional public schools,
charter schools are funded by a mix of federal, State, and local taxes. But while
taxpayers elect school board members to oversee traditional public schools,
charter schools are different. If a group of people want to start a school, they
sign a contract or a charter with the State. Some charter schools have longer
hours or use a different curriculum. Most have a physical building, but a growing
number don’t. For both types, the state pays the group a set amount for each
student that they enroll. Most of the groups that run online
charter schools are for-profit companies. The largest are k12 Inc. and Connections
Academy. They run 122 online charter schools in 29 states, which enroll more
than half of all online charter students nationwide. They’re both part of publicly
traded companies, which means that some of the tax dollars they get for running
schools go towards paying their shareholders, One of whom used to be Betsy DeVos. Gary Miron is a professor of education.
He studies online charter schools and he crunched the numbers and found that
these companies made: In their ads k12 and other online charter operators tout their
research-based curriculum, but the data show that kids in online charter schools
are falling way behind. One way that researchers measure a school’s success is
to look at students test scores at the beginning and end of a school year and
see how much they’ve grown. In the most comprehensive study to date, researchers
at Stanford University looked at 17 states with online charter schools and
compared their yearly growth to regular public schools and charter schools in
those states, that serve similar populations of kids. They found that attending an online charter school had the equivalent effect of missing 180
days of instruction in math. In most places that’s an entire school year. In
reading, students lost about 72 days compared to their peers in regular
school. There were a few exceptions. Online charters in Georgia and Wisconsin
had significantly better growth scores in reading than regular schools, but
those states only serve a fraction of the country’s online charter students.
The vast majority live in states where attending an online charter school is
statistically equivalent to missing weeks of school. They’re allowing these
companies to operate charter schools, sometimes with more than a hundred
students per teacher. That’s more than six times the national average for
public schools. We reached out to k12 and Connections and both companies disputed the methodology of the Stanford
study. K12 said they changed their curriculum since the study came out in
2015, but a 2016 study of online charters in Ohio, found that students there are
still doing significantly worse than their peers in regular school. So, if these schools get such poor results, why don’t states just shut them down? Online charter companies like k12 and Connections have spent millions on
lobbying and campaign contributions at the state level. Of the 64 online
charters they ran in 2011, all but one were still open in 2016. And 55 new ones
had opened for business. States have the power to hold these companies
accountable they’re just choosing not to. And students are paying the price.