by David Safier
The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) just released an 80 page study, Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2013. I haven't had a chance to read its data and conclusions about online schools yet, but here's part of the information NEPC put out about the study.
In the 2010-2011 school year, 52 percent of brick-and-mortar district and charter schools met AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress], contrasted with 23.6 percent of virtual schools – a 28 percentage-point gap. Virtual schools also enroll a far smaller percentage of low-income students, special education students, and English language learners than brick-and-mortar public schools.
“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,” said Western Michigan University Professor Gary Miron. “As virtual schools have expanded, it appears that their performance has slipped dramatically.”
The overall cost to taxpayers for lackluster virtual schools has been significant. Despite incurring much lower costs than brick-and-mortar schools, virtual school operators receive the same allocation as charter schools that pay for buildings, desks, textbooks, and other costs associated with more traditional school settings.
Stanford University Professor Emeritus Larry Cuban, who contributed a review of current research knowledge on virtual education to the NEPC report and has long followed education technology issues, explained: “The current climate of elementary and secondary school reform that promotes uncritical acceptance of any and all virtual education innovations is not supported by educational research. A model that is built around churn [large numbers of students withdrawing each year] is not sustainable; the unchecked growth of virtual school is essentially an education tech bubble.”