Online charter school students are underperforming compared to their peers, a Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study reveals. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools responded to the findings by calling for the closing of underperforming virtual charter schools.
Data from 17 states and the District of Columbia revealed that online students have attended math and reading classes less often than their brick-and-mortar peers, which negatively affects their academic performance. More specifically, the researchers discovered that at the national level, students have 72 days fewer days in learning to read and 180 days fewer in learning math.
In Ohio, students missed on average 144 days of math education and 79 of learning to read. In Michigan, things were slightly better, with no difference between traditional and digital students in terms of reading days missed. However, in math, digital learners lagged behind their peers.
For online charter schools in Texas, Florida and Louisiana, the academic growth for virtual learners was substantially lower in relation to their brick-and-mortar peers. For the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, results were poor with the Academy performing worse than 97% of Michigan's schools. For the school year 2012-2013, 200 online charter schools offered learning opportunities to about 200,000 students.
The study, which aimed to identify the impact of online learning on academic performance combined data from school leader surveys, student-level data, and state policy data. The authors concluded:
"Current online charter schools may be a good fit for some students, but the evidence suggests that online charters don't serve very well the relatively atypical set of students that currently attend these schools, much less the general population."
The analysts emphasized that academic gains from attending online charter schools are rare.
Reactions to the comprehensive study were mixed. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools was alarmed by the findings. The nonprofit organization's CEO, Nina Rees, said in a press release issued by the nonprofit:
"The National Alliance isdisheartened to learn of the large-scale underperformance of full-time virtual charter public schools."
"We firmly believe that individual charter public schools that are failing their students should be closed. This is an essential piece of the charter public school model in which schools are given more flexibility to innovate in exchange for a higher level of accountability for student achievement."
Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said that although there's a place for online virtual education in the country, the results are unacceptable, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The CREDO analysts recommend in their report that oversight policies are strengthened to improve student achievement. They also call for states to assess online program efficiency before allowing the launch or expansion of online programs to serve more students.
Commenting on the researchers' conclusions, 74Million.org says the method employed for the study's purposes in which the attendance of online charter schools was juxtaposed to that of demographic- and performance-related traditional classroom students is controversial.
Many supporters of online charter schools question CREDO's methodology, The Columbus Dispatch reports.