Virtual Schools Not Passing the Test

Children who enroll in a K12 Inc. cyberschool are more likely to fall behind in reading and math, move between schools or leave school altogether, according to a new study from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado.

K12 Inc. is the nation’s largest virtual school company. It operates 48 full-time virtual schools in 2011-12, and provides services and support to dozens of other schools that offer online classes.

Some of the biggest problems the study found were K12 Inc. students’ low on-time graduation rates, math, and reading scores.

Math scores for K12 Inc.’s students are 14 to 36 percent lower than scores for students attending more “traditional schools” in the states in which the company operates schools. In grades 3 – 11, K12 Inc. students’ reading scores were between 2 and 11 percentage points below the state average.

The on-time graduation rate for K12 Inc. students is 49.1 percent, compared with a 79.4 percent on-time graduation rate for the states in which the company operates schools.

“Our in-depth look into K12 Inc. raises enormous red flags,” NEPC Director Kevin Welner said. The report’s findings were presented in Washington last week to a national meeting of the American Association of School Administrators, where the report’s lead author, Dr. Gary Miron, debated Dr. Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning.

“Computer-assisted learning has tremendous potential,” said Miron. “But at present, our research shows that virtual schools such as those operated by K12 Inc. are not working effectively. States should not grow full-time virtual schools until they have evidence of success.”

The company’s schools usually operate on less public revenue than traditional schools, but they have “considerable cost savings,” according to a press release from NEPC. They devote minimal or no funds to operating costs including facilities and transportation, and they have more students per teacher and pay teachers less. Furthermore, the study found K12 Inc. spends half as much per student than charter schools overall spend on special education and a third of what districts spend, according to the press release.

“Part of K12’s problem seems to be that it skimps on special education spending and employs few instructors, despite having lower overhead than brick-and-mortar schools,” said Welner, who is also a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado.

K12 Inc. students are also very likely to change schools, which could lead to their low on-time graduation rates.

In light of shrinking education budgets, state governments have considered using online schools to cut costs in education. But this latest study echoes the growing body of evidence suggesting students do not learn as well in cyberschool environments.

A “more rigorous” study of student learning in Pennsylvania virtual charter schools conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found virtual-school students ended up with learning gains that were “significantly worse” than students in traditional charters and public schools. Audits and state evaluations in five different states have reported similar conclusions.

  • Lonnie Massey

    Two of our children did K12 for 8th grade. We did not realize how much work it would be for us. It doesn’t matter how good the courseware is, a teacher is still needed! And they both struggled with math through the rest of their schooling. If virtual schools advertised honestly, they would market themselves only as a curriculum source for homeschoolers.

  • Erica Horvath

    I have found K-12 quite rewarding for my child and our family. I am sure it is not a good fit for all children just the same as traditional public school is not for some children. I have to say that there has to be quite a bit of parent involvement in order to be able for the student to achieve the skills needed. There must be more discipline in K-12 in order to get the work done. K-12 offers many options of ways to learn. From what I have experienced, k-12 teachers are readily available to answer questions. I think it is a huge benefit for a child to be able to spend more time learning what they don’t understand and move forward without waiting through a whole lesson of what a child already comprehends. In subjects that my child struggles, she attends illuminates which are virtual classrooms that are interactive. These are also recorded so a student may review these lessons at any time.
    K-12 is not for everyone, but our family has had a chance to appreciate how life can be when things are brought home away from the fast paced world. We have developed a sense of peace and enjoyment of simple things in life.

  • Cathleen

    What I don’t see is the percentage of students enrolled that would not be enrolled in a regular public school due to extreme or terminal illnesses, or situations where a public school is not feasible. Enrollment for such situations means the percentages overall will be lower-since all are required to partake in standardized testing.

    As a family we are very pleased with our decision to educate our children using 21st century methods instead of 19th century industrialized methods.

  • RealityCheckGirl

    People need to keep in mind that “virtual schooling” through a district is a fairly new concept for public/charter schools.
    Although private schools have been successfully doing it for years, many public & charter schools are new to this game.
    So it stands to reason that YES there would be lower Standarized test scores.
    I am not a big fan of state tests which inherently have their own problems, the only thing that standardized tests do is promote competition and a winner/loser environment by ranking one school, state, or student against another.
    You should be measuring your student against himself as opposed to comparing with other students. Many would suggest parents use other testing methods to determine their child’s own achievement, such as diagnostic tests administered by a qualified educator, diagnostician or private school.

    Keep in mind that approximately 60% of students graduating high school in this country are behind academically. There’s a reason why colleges have a significant number of freshmen in “remedial” classes these days. Ironically, these students have passed their standardized state tests in order to graduate high school. So what does that tell you?

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