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Virtual Charter Schools Get Failing Grade in Study

Nationwide, almost 300,000 elementary and secondary students attend school entirely online. (April Bryant/Pixabay)
Nationwide, almost 300,000 elementary and secondary students attend school entirely online. (April Bryant/Pixabay)
June 6, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia lawmakers are debating a controversial plan to allow charter schools, and in other states that has included schools that operate only online.

But new policy briefs give virtual charter schools a failing grade.

Researchers with the National Education Policy Center found that students at the virtual schools complete their courses less often, and have lower scores on standardized tests, compared with students in brick and mortar schools.

Michael Barbour, an associate professor of instructional design at Touro University in California and a co-author of the research, blames the for-profit model of these online charter schools.

"Unfortunately, what we find is that decisions made about the instructional environment aren't made based upon instructional design, or what's in the best interest of the kids,” he states. “They're made based upon what is the most cost efficient way of doing this."

According to secretary of state filings, at least one firm that operates virtual charter schools has been lobbying West Virginia lawmakers. The companies say they comply with all regulations and provide an important option for students who don't thrive in a traditional school environment.

Barbour says once the schools are in place in other states, bills to better regulate virtual education there have failed. And Barbour says that's come in the face of lobbying by the online school companies and of opposition from lawmakers who want to reduce the influence of public schools and apply a free market approach to education.

"Most people have no problem with not just allowing these programs to continue to operate, but they've actually made it easier for them to operate and have encouraged more students into these programs," he states.

The report recommends that legislators halt the expansion of virtual schools and impose stronger accountability measures that tie state funding to student achievement.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV