07 November 2015

This is Not a Surprise

Even in the ethically dubious world of charter schools, online charters seem to be dicey.

Now comes a study which indicates that online charters are about as effective as not going to school at all:
A new study on the effectiveness of online charter schools is nothing short of damning — even though it was at least partly funded by a private pro-charter foundation. It effectively says that the average student who attends might as well not enroll.

The study was done by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as CREDO, and located at Stanford University, in collaboration with the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington and Mathematica Policy Research. CREDO’s founding director, Margaret Raymond, served as project director. CREDO receives funding from the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation, which provided support for the new research.

CREDO has released a number of reports in recent years on the effectiveness of charters — using math and reading standardized test scores as the measure — which collectively conclude that some perform better than traditional public schools and some don’t. In its newest report, released this week, CREDO evaluated online K-12 charter schools. There are 17 states with online charter students: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia.

The study sought to answer this question: “How did enrollment in an online charter school affect the academic growth of students?” Academic growth, as mentioned before, is measured by standardized test scores for the purpose of this study, which evaluated scores from online charter students between 2008 and 2013 and compared them to students in traditional public schools (not brick-and-mortar charters). Here are some of the findings:
  • Students in online charters lost an average of about 72 days of learning in reading.
  • Students in online charters lost 180 days of learning in math during the course of a 180-day school year. Yes, you read that right. As my colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote in this story about the study, it’s as if the students did not attend school at all when it comes to math.
  • The average student in an online charter had lower reading scores than students in traditional schools everywhere except Wisconsin and Georgia, and had lower math scores everywhere except in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Layton quoted Raymond as saying, “There’s still some possibility that there’s positive learning, but it’s so statistically significantly different from the average, it is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”
(emphasis mine)

Fundamentally, the problem here is that many of the supporters of things like cyber-charter schools are autodidacts, the sort of people who would literally break into computer science lab in the dead of night to teach themselves about computers. (This is an actual example from the life of Bill Gates, a big charter supporter.)

People who are that aggressively self taught are few and far between, and there are simply not enough people who fit that mold (I don't, for example) for the rapidly expanding rolls of internet academies, and those who could succeed with these institutions don't really need them. They could learn anywhere.

BTW, this is also an indictment of MOOCs, (Massive Open Online Courses) which seem to be the latest fad in higher education.

I will note however that there are remote learning approaches that do work, most notably Open University in the UK, but these involve to use of tutors who actually have a significant amount of face time with their students, as well as face to face evaluations.

Of course those get in the way of profits, so in the charter and the MOOC world, these things are eschewed.


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