Research conducted by three independent research institutions looked into online charter schools, and their findings were released in October 2015.
The press release, with links to the full report, is here.
Report findings conclude that:
“…students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.”
Referring specifically to the question of whether the schools had helped students from low socio-economic backgrounds and/or those from minority groups, the report states that:
“This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.”
Mathematica’s analysis found:
• Student–driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learning in online charter schools, with 33 percent of online charter schools offering only self-paced instruction
• Online charter schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day
• Maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far, identified by online charter school principals nearly three times as often as any other challenge
• Online charter schools place significant expectations on parents, perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction, with 43, 56, and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction
The Mathematica report concludes:
“Challenges in maintaining student engagement are inherent in online instruction, and they are exacerbated by high student teacher ratios and minimal student-teacher contact time, which the data reveal are typical of online charter schools nationwide. These findings suggest reason for concern about whether the sector is likely to be effective in promoting student achievement.”
CREDO (Stanford University)’s report concluded that:
“While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year.”
In other words, most students lost the equivalent of just under half a year’s learning in reading and made absolutely no progress in maths at all during an entire school year.
The research was funded by The Walton Foundation, which has funded a huge drive for reform. Even so, they couldn’t find much of a positive spin to put on the findings, concluding only that the research is valuable as:
“[k]nowing the facts helps parents, educators, policymakers, and funders make smarter, more informed decisions that benefit children.”
I do hope policymakers proposing the Communities of Online Learning (COOLs) in New Zealand have read the reports thoroughly and are indeed using this information to make better and more informed decisions. Sadly, at this stage, we have no evidence that this is the case.
You will find the press release and linked full reports here.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net