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
The Education Amendment Bill proposes changes to the way Education is provided in New Zealand, and one of those changes is the establishment of COOLs (Communities of Online Learning).
Proponents say COOLs will open the door to more education opportunities, but have yet to explain how or why they believe it will lead to an improvement for students.
You can see me here, along with Megan Woods, Peter Dunne, Ron Mark, and Paul Foster Bell, discussing the issues on Back Benches recently:
I’m all for using technology to advance learning, but just doing a course on a computer does not make it quality learning – even the OECD agrees, saying that “education systems which have invested heavily in information and communications technology have seen “no noticeable improvement” in Pisa test results for reading, mathematics or science”.
Students having quality support readily available is incredibly important. I know this first hand, having worked for a while now with students learning via Te Kura Correspondence School, that a qualified teacher is still very much in need. Students need regular guidance, help and support. Often a student will be floundering but will not ask for help, and it is down to the teacher to be monitoring and be responsive to the student’s needs. And, as you can well imagine, some students need a fair bit of nudging to stay on task.
We must remember each time the Minister promotes COOLs, that online learning can just as easily be accessed in a school, in a physical classroom, and with a physical qualified teacher on hand for support and guidance. We need to ask, w why the push to make more learning remote? The Minister has not explained the rationale for this at all.
What the Minister is proposing is actually an extension to (and perhaps you might say a distortion of) homeschooling. I want to be clear before I go on – I fully support quality homeschooling – that is not the issue here. The issue is how learning is done, how it is delivered, and why this change is being pushed. People should sit up and listen when even home schooling networks have serious questions.
Concerns I’ve heard raised so far include:
When even home schooling networks are expressing concern about COOLs, people should listen; remember, they are the experts in understanding what is needed for a quality home-based education.
At the bottom of it all, one can’t help wondering this fundamental mystery of the fact that home-schoolers have been given little support or funding for years, but suddenly the Minister thinks learning at home is the bee’s knees. Could it be it’s only of interest to said Minister when it involves privatisation of another part of the education system?
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
It’s been a year of non-stop changes and proposals. Some call it a war on free public schooling in NZ – indeed it feels like a continuous battery of skirmishes with little to no break between attacks.
If the Minister is purposefully undertaking psychological warfare to break teachers down, then she’s doing it well, because we’re worn out; We just want to teach.
So far this year, NZ public education has faced:
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things – there have been so many – so please comment below if there’s anything that needs to be added.
Meanwhile, look after yourselves – there’s still one whole term to go and, as we know, a lot can happen in a few short weeks.
PS, more added below!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Dr Liz Gordon, QPEC convenor, says that QPEC supports the concerns of many other groups about two recently announced policy proposals.
“The first is that additional special education support be given to the early childhood sector. We strongly support the policy of providing early intervention.
“However it is also proposed that this be a zero-cost policy, with funding taken from later stages of education to fund the early interventions. The government is well aware that there is already inadequate funding for special needs in school, and taking from Peter to pay Paul will leave ‘Peter’ with inadequate support.
“QPEC supports additional funding for special needs in education, to give all children the best chance at a full life in the community”.
Dr Gordon notes that the second issue is the introduction of “yet another category of school” into the Education Act.
“The notion of an online school needs much further investigation before it is placed into our Education Act. There are some extremely difficult problems to be overcome before a ‘school’ of this kind can be developed.
“The New Zealand curriculum, which is compulsory in most schools, is not yet available in an online format and this would need to happen (unless the school is to be a private school, which would be a missed opportunity).
“We know that only certain children learn well in an online environment. These are usually high-achieving young people who have the support of well-educated families and communities. This group is not the target of the government’s policy goals, which are to lift the achievement of under resourced children.
“It therefore seems extraordinary that the Minister would champion this policy at this time”.
QPEC is concerned that once again, as with the partnership schools, the Minister is pursuing models that will lead to further privatisation and fewer opportunities in practice.
Dr Gordon concludes: “There is nothing wrong with extra resources in special education or pursuing models of online learning, but the approaches signaled appears out of step with the realities of schooling in Aotearoa.”
Dr Liz Gordon, Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC)
The Minister of Education’s announcement today that Communities of online learning (Cools) will be created to allow corporate entities to enter the education “market” is nothing but blatant privatisation, says the PPTA.
“Learning online is already here, ask any parent with children at school.” says PPTA President Angela Roberts, ‘What this does is open up a market for any provider to get public funding to offer online education, in competition with public schools.”
“Schools already have many ways of blending face-to-face with online learning. There will be no new opportunities created for our rangatahi with this change. The only benefit will be for business.”
“Coming at the same time that the funding review is proposing a standardised per-child amount being provided in a cash sum to schools, the proposal for ‘Cools’ sets up the possibility of student vouchers being used to fund private online schools.”
“There are two wildly incorrect assumptions that underpin this idea,” says Angela Roberts. “One is that online learning can substitute for face-to-face, and the other is that a more competitive market in education is going to lead to better results. Both of these fly in the face of all the evidence.”
“This policy would put New Zealand in the bracket of countries with the most free-market education systems in the world and similar to some US states. I don’t think this is what New Zealand parents want for their children.”
Government plans to legislate for children from 5 years old to choose to do their schooling online using private companies who do not have to have qualified teachers, will horrify both parents and educators, NZEI Te Riu Roa says.
NZEI President Louise Green said the plan undermined the very worthy goals for education proposed in the same legislation – the Bill for the new Education Act.
“We welcome the high level goals and the reassertion of the right to free quality public education in the Bill, Louise Green says. But New Zealand schools already offer online learning integrated with face-to-face teaching, although support and resourcing is needed to improve equity of access.
“However, in no way does the online learning framework the Bill proposes match what we know works best for student success. Experience of online schooling in the United States is woeful and all the evidence is clear that high-quality teaching is the single biggest influence in-school on children’s achievement, particularly for our most vulnerable learners.
“Particularly for our youngest learners in ECE and primary school, education is also about learning to work and play with other children and to experience both growing independence and a range of activities outside the home. Online learning cannot replicate important social and experiential learning schools offer.
“This proposal was not subject to any consultation prior to appearing in the Bill. We are concerned it will open the door to a new market in private provision subsidised by the taxpayer that will take resourcing away from public schools.
“There is also a serious threat that children with learning difficulties or other challenges will be pressured into online learning as the cheapest option, rather than the Government taking full responsibility for specialist, personalised support to enable every child to reach their potential.”
The Online Charter School Study 2015 by the Centre for Research on Educational Outcomes showed that the academic benefits of online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule. See other implications here or full report.
If you are still unclear why we are fighting against charter (partnership) schools, below is yet another good example of where the madness leads when public education is privatised: Virtual schools.
Sounds great, doesn’t it – all sci-fi and up-to-the-minute. I am quite addicted to my computer and to technology, so you’d think I’d be all over this. But I’m not. I’m extremely unconvinced that the pros outweigh the cons.
But before I share with you what it’s like to work (and study?) in a virtual school, let’s just recap the non virtual foreign-owned charter hopefuls wooing New Zealand:
Mike Feinberg of theUS-based KIPP charter school chain was over like a shot in 2013, as soon as charter/partnership schools were mooted. He met with Hekia Parata and co., and then embarked on a publicity tour of NZ to prime investors and the gullible, ready for their foray over here as soon as they can get away with it.
Of course Feinberg was very, very keen to “warn[ed] against giving contracts to businesses or groups which do not have a long, robust track record in education,” (in other words, only give contracts to companies like his), but was more than happy to support the use of “unqualified teachers in its proposed Partnership Schools.”
Because. let’s face it, cheaper staff = more profit.
It doesn’t save the tax payer a red cent, but it does move the money into the businessman’s bank account rather than a teachers. Nice for the investor.
But do KIPP do a good job?
Well, KIPP are always keen to say they have a huge percentage of students that graduate and go to university. What they don’t say is that the drop out rate is phenomenal, and when they say over 90% graduate, they mean of those that made it to the end of the year.
KIPP is well known to lose large numbers of students throughout the school year, sending the weaker ones back into the public system and keeping on only those that will reflect well on the KIPP brand. The high attrition rates are discussed here and here and indeed here – or do a Google search and read any of the thousands of reports you find.
(Note – if you find a report singing KIPP’s praises, be sure to check who funded the research and how the numbers were crunched. There are often cunning tactics the researchers and statisticians use to make the ‘facts’ seem rosier.)
So tey keep the best and throw the weaker students back at the public schools, then boast that they do better than public schools! Huh?! Surely we are meant to help all students do well, no just the easy-to-teach ones?
For other illuminating snippets on how charters fudge the facts, you might want to take a peek at the handily compiled 10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You … it’s quite enlightening.
But if, after all that, you need yet more convincing, read this and then tell me, do you still think charter schools are all about the kids?
“In late August, 2012, I took a job in a school that is part of the largest virtual charter school chain in the nation. While I had misgivings about the nature of the school, I thought perhaps if I were diligent, I could serve my students well. In November 2013 I decided I could no longer continue as a teacher. This is my story.
Some Background on K12 Inc.
K12 Inc., the virtual-education company, was founded in 1999 by the one-time “junk bond king” Michael Milken and the hedge fund banker Ronald Packard. The company’s original board chairman was William J. Bennett, who had been the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan. (Bennett resigned from his position with K12 Inc. in 2005 after sparking controversy by stating that the U.S. crime rate would go down if more African-American babies were aborted.)
As a private company founded by financiers, K12 Inc. is highly profit-driven. Though its stock price has apparently taken a hit recently, there is little doubt that K12 Inc. has been quite successful in bringing in revenue–even as regular public schools have faced dire financial straits. According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, Packard, who is the current CEO, earned $19 million in compensation from 2009-2013. In 2013 alone, as Chicago closed 50 of its public schools and Philadelphia closed 23 more, K12 Inc. brought in a whopping $730.8 million in taxpayer dollars from its managed public schools, and its top executives saw their compensation skyrocket by 96 percent.
My Life as a Virtual Teacher
I became a teacher because I am an advocate for youth and social justice. However, this purpose was hard to fulfill working in a K12 Inc. school. With the kind of technology, systems and process management needed to keep the enrollment machine running (and the machine is priority), there is never much time to actually teach. In my former school, each class met for 30 minutes in an interactive-blackboard setting one day each week. Fewer than 10 percent of students actually attended these “classes.” Other than that time and any one-on-one sessions a teacher and student might set up (which, in my experience, almost never happened), there is no room for direct instruction.
Given the extensive needs of the students, this set up does not serve them well. Most of my contact with students was by email, through which I answered questions about everything from login issues and technology glitches to clarifying of assignments, and even that communication was only accessed by a very small percentage of students.
In addition, because students continuously enroll, no one was on the same assignment at the same time. I taught high school English. In a given day in mid-November I would grade introductory assignments, diagnostic essays and end-of-semester projects, and everything in between, for each course (this month I had 30 separate courses). I found it to be impossible to meet the learning needs of my students in that situation.
For most of last year I was Lead Teacher at the school, which required me to attend national staff meetings each week. At first the marketing focus of the conversations turned my stomach, and then it made me furious. In my experience, the conversation was never about how our students were struggling, how we could support those who were trying to learn the English Language, how we could support those who were homeless or how we could support those with special needs.
It was never about how we could support our teachers.
And there was marketing: how to get more children enrolled, how to reach more families, how to be sure they were pre-registered for next year, how to get Facebook pages and other marketing information “pushed out” to students.” Read the rest of the piece here – it is well worth reading it to the end.
So, does that sound like quality education to you?
Is that tax $$$ well spent?
I would say that the evidence is mounting by the day that charter (partnership) schools leave us much to worry about.
What do you think?