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States are taking a multi-million dollar gamble on a technology that doesn’t seem to work.
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In 32 states plus DC, students of all ages can bypass brick-and-mortar schools for online charters. Most of these schools are run by publicly-traded companies, which means the profits they earn after running schools with taxpayer funds go toward paying their shareholders. These schools enroll less than 1% of American public school students right now, but the share is growing. In their ads, these schools promise autonomy and flexibility. They appeal to students eager to escape bullies or classrooms where they feel unsuccessful. But the data show that attending these schools sets kids back academically— by a lot. And despite their poor performance, states have been slow to close these schools down.
Arianna Prothero and Maya Riser-Kositsky calculated the lobbying and campaign spending totals for K12 and Connections Academy for Education Week/edweek.org: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/11/03/outsized-influence-online-charters-bring-lobbying-a.html
This 2015 study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University is the most comprehensive nationwide look at online charters to date. Researchers there found that attending an online charter school for a year is equivalent to missing 180 days of instruction in math, and 72 days of instruction in reading: https://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/OnlineCharterStudyFinal2015.pdf
June Ahn (NYU) and Andrew McEachin (RAND) did a similar study of Ohio’s online charter schools and got similar results. They found that even high-achieving students who attending online charters in that state ended the year significantly behind their peers in brick-and-mortar schools: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0013189X17692999
Thanks to folks at the National Education Policy Center for sharing their data on online charter enrollment from 2011 through 2016. Check out their 2017 report on the state of virtual schools to learn more: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2017
Here are more detailed responses regarding the results of the 2015 Stanford University from K12: http://www.k12.com/response-to-nepc.html and Connections Academy: https://www.connectionsacademy.com/news/ce-statement-virtual-charter-school-study
Here's the analysis from Gary Miron and his NEPC colleague Bruce Baker of profit margins for for-profit charter operators: http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/rb_baker-miron_charter_revenue_0.pdf
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