Troubled Online Charter Schools
Charter schools, which receive public money but are subject to fewer state regulations, are operating in 40 states. A growing body of research shows that charter schools generally perform no better than traditional schools and are often worse as measured by student test data. This is particularly true of online charter schools, which educate more than 200,000 full-time students and are spreading quickly across the country.
The need for closer scrutiny of these schools by state officials is underscored in a report published last week by the National Education Policy Center, a research center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The study found that only 27 percent of privately managed online schools achieved adequate yearly progress on standardized tests, as defined by the federal government, in the 2010 school year as opposed to 52 percent of privately managed brick-and-mortar charter schools.
A recent investigation by The Times focusing partly on K12 Inc., one of the biggest online learning companies, and on Pennsylvania, which allows full-time online students, found that some high school teachers complained of managing too many online students. The overall picture was one of low student achievement and high turnover rates. These complaints are similar to those made about the for-profit college industry, which has been criticized for recruiting students who have no hope of graduating.
Despite lower operating costs, the online companies in some states collect nearly as much money as brick-and-mortar charter schools. In Pennsylvania, for example, the per-student cost for online charter schools was about $10,000. By all indications, taxpayers are getting very little for their money. A study released last spring by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that students in eight Pennsylvania online schools performed far worse in math and science than their traditional school counterparts.
Online programs that supplement traditional schooling have a place on the menu of education options. But there is growing evidence that full-time online schools may be inappropriate for a great majority of students and need to be monitored closely in states that allow them.