Maine Union Report Criticizes Online K-12 School Performance

As Maine lawmakers continue to debate allowing virtual charter schools to operate within their borders, the Maine Education Association, which has been unfailingly critical of online charters, released a report that criticizes the track record of virtual schools operating in other states around the country. Specifically, the report focuses on the performance of two operators that have been in competition to operate schools in the state: K12 Inc and Connections Learning.

The report, titled Virtual Failure: The Growth of Online Charter Schools, shows that academic outcomes from virtual charter students, at least in charters operated by the two companies, often lag those of their brick and mortal peers. The report also contends that there is no evidence to support the conclusion that a full-time virtual school produces results that are on par with those produced in the traditional brick and mortal classroom.

The report cites a study produced by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes based on academic performance of students in Pennsylvania. The study, which looked at student performance of all 116 charters operating in the state, found that students in traditional charters substantially outperformed their peers enrolled in full-time online schools. Online students also lagged behind classmates enrolled in state’s regular public schools in reading and mathematics.

The failure is particularly startling considering, according to the report, the cyber students with poor performances had demographic advantages over traditional charter school students in Pennsylvania. Still, cyber students’ performance did not exceed that of the traditional student. For example, the report found “the typical cyber charter student is white and ineligible for subsidized meals, while the typical brick-and-mortar charter student is black and receiving free- or reduced-lunch prices. Furthermore, the starting score for cyber students is significantly higher than for brick-and- mortar charter students in both reading and math.” Despite these advantages, cyber charters still failed to match the results for traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charters. This data underscores the troubles of cyber charters.

Online schools also fail to meet the adequate yearly progress set out by the No Child Left Behind Act at higher rates than their traditional counterparts. According to the data from the National Education Policy Center, roughly 51.4% of public schools met the AYP, while only 27.4% of virtual academies did. Connections Academy schools in particular had bad showings. Only 3 of the 14 schools operated by the company met AYP.

The report also showed additional troubling findings, including that students who enrolled in online charters often fell behind the classmates they left in traditional schools. After two years attending online schools full time, students’ math and reading scores typically declined when compared to brick and mortar peers.

What was most alarming is the high drop out rate posted by online schools. According to the report, only 12% of Colorado Virtual Academy students graduated on time compared to 72% graduation rate of Colorado Public Schools.