Thursday, April 17, 2014

Virtual School Profits Far Exceeding Performance

May 17, 2013 by twalker  
Filed under Featured News, Top Stories

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By Edward Graham

While proponents of for-profit virtual schools argue that cyber classrooms provide students with greater access to a high-quality education, a new report released by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC)Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2013: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence—finds that virtual schools often receive little to no oversight and seem more concerned with profit margins rather than their students’ lackluster performances.

“Even a cursory review of virtual schooling in the U.S. reveals an environment much like the legendary wild west,” says University of Colorado-Boulder Professor Alex Molnar, the editor of the report. “There are outsized claims, lagging performance, intense conflicts, lots of taxpayer money at stake, and very little solid evidence to justify the rapid expansion of virtual schools.”

Students in 39 states and the District of Columbia can now enroll in virtual schools for full or part-time courses, and approximately 275,000 students took online classes in the 2011-2012 academic year. But even as the number of virtual schools is growing exponentially, experts caution that the results are failing to keep up with the rapid expansion of these cyber classrooms.

“When virtual schools were first coming on the scene, the results looked better,” says Western Michigan Professor Gary Miron, one of the authors of the report. “It now appears that early adopters of the virtual school model were largely home-schoolers who were used to studying alone and who generally had lots of parental guidance. As virtual schools have expanded, it appears that their performance has slipped dramatically.”

The report, which compiled research and studies from some of the leading educational experts in the country, found that students attending virtual schools perform much worse than their peers at traditional brick-and-mortar public schools. Only 23.6 percent of virtual schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2010-2011, the measurement that determines whether schools have met the minimum academic standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. 52 percent of traditional and charter schools made AYP in the same academic year, more than double the success rate for virtual schools.

Virtual schools were also found to have a disproportionately high number of white students—almost 75 percent, compared to the national mean of 54 percent—even though they have a large presence in states with high Latino populations, such as Arizona, Florida and California. Further findings demonstrated an even greater slant in the students that were ultimately registered for online courses—cyber schools were shown to accept special education students, low-income students, and English Language Learners at significantly lower percentages than traditional public schools.

The report points out that, even with a lack of previous research examining the validity of an online education, legislators—often at the urging of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—have been pushing bills on the state levels for several years.

“At this point, technological and business model innovations have far outpaced research on the impact of virtual teaching and learning,” says the report’s executive summary. “Yet even though little is known about the efficacy of online education generally or about individual approaches specifically, states are moving quickly to expand taxpayer-funded virtual education programs.”

Between 2008 and 2012, states across the country passed 157 bills relating to an online or virtual education. Because virtual schools are seen as under the purview of the states, these schools are treated as public institutions and receive funds to operate. Since the majority of virtual schools are run by for-profit organizations, the study is quick to show that these schools frequently use state education funds to bolster their own profits. The report profiles a study done by Kantar Media that shows that the 10 largest cyber school providers spent roughly $100 million dollars the last five years on advertising—taxpayer money that came from the same coffers that fund public schools.

With a steady flow of funds and next to no overhead expenses, virtual schools and the organizations behind them have been able to profit from offering a shoddy education. States are easing up on restricting enrollment caps for virtual schools while providing no further accountability measures to ensure their efficiency, resulting in more money being diverted from the public schools that need all the funding they can get.

“Policymakers know that business, civic and community leaders expect them to work tirelessly to improve student academic performance through every available means, including better school organization, governance, curriculum, instruction—and especially better technology,” says Stanford University professor Larry Cuban, one of the authors of the report. “Unfortunately, good politics does not automatically result in good policy.”

Comments

4 Responses to “Virtual School Profits Far Exceeding Performance”
  1. Elden Killian says:

    It would be interesting to see a wider study of which kids are moving into online schooling and their motivations for it. In the few anecdotal cases I know about, they are generally kids who are already not thriving in traditional schooling and are attending online as a last ditch effort, or have parents that mistrust or have disdain for the educational process and institution. It isn’t surprising to me that they are failing. The question is if these kids would still be likely to fail if they stayed in the traditional system.

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  2. Ronald Abate says:

    Killian makes some good points. A better way to determine the efficacy of on-line instruction is to assign students randomly to either of two groups: (1) those receiving on-line instruction and (2) those receiving in class instruction. The content taught to both groups should be the same. Another variable to consider is the quality of instruction which can vary widely for both.

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  3. Rachel Drake says:

    I worked for a district that used online courses in a supplementary manner. For certain classes, the software used the same materials (lessons, readings, practice and questions were drawn from the same publisher as the materials used in our traditional classes). And this software was one of the better online programs I’ve seen. I ran one of the supplementary programs that used this software. I did the data analysis.

    I will guarantee you that even the students who barely passed the traditional class, gained more understanding (depth and breadth) than those students who aced the “comparable” online course. And yes, this is true even if I remove the students who were not successful in a traditional setting and if I remove the retakes – only looking at those students who took the course for enrichment/added credit. Granted this creates a relatively small sample, yet I documented this occurrence across various courses with multiple students.

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  4. I have had the pleasure of teaching in “traditional classrooms” in both Elementary and Special Education for grades K-12, as well as tutoring students that are in on-line schools. I have found that those students who do well in on-line schools would have done well in the traditional classroom and those who do not do well, would have failed to do well in the traditional classrooms. For instance, the best progress in tutoring that I have been able to make with students has been those who have 100% parental commitment and support, dedication to do well in all things and the responsibility to complete assignments and study for tests. Those who do not do well, however, are dragging themselves out of bed at 1:00 pm to meet me at the door for their tutoring session, having done no work since our last session. They have managed to stay up all night playing video games and watching TV, but have little to no desire to do any type of self-improvement, especially school work!

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