The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an organization that advocates for quality public charter school education, has released a report called “A Call to Action to Improve the Quality of Virtual Charter Public Schools” that details the history of virtual charter school education and outlines a series of ideas that can improve it.
The first full-time virtual charter public schools opened up in the late 1990s; the number of these schools have only expanded since then. As of August 2014, there were 135 full-time virtual charter schools operating in 23 states and the District of Colombia. These kind of schools were serving 180,000 students.
These students represent an array of experiences. Some virtual charter school attendees are rural students who live out-of-reach of quality schools; others are student-athletes who are seeking a more flexible schedule, and more are students who opt to stay home for personal reasons. The report acknowledges that virtual learning is not the right answer for all or even most students, but there does exist a demand for quality online education that can be better served.
In October 2015, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released the most extensive examination of full-time virtual charter schools to date. The most notable finding in this report was the large-scale underperformance by full-time virtual charter schools. These results, the National Alliance’s report claims, should inspire an effort to improve the performance for virtual charter schools.
To improve these virtual spaces, the report recommends that states only permit authorizers that have been granted statewide or regional chartering authority to over see the virtual schools that enroll students from more than one district. Without restructuring the authorizing processes, there exists no regulatory method to prevent those charter school authorizers seeking only financial gain. Additionally, states should establish criteria for enrollment based on factors indicative of student success.
Currently, virtual charter schools are not strictly held accountable for their performances. The report recommends that states require virtual charter authorizers to determine virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, achievement, truancy, attrition, and finances. Every charter school must feature these standards, so virtual entities should not be excluded. Authorizers must be subject to renewals and closure decisions based upon their schools record of achievement.
The report also states that full-time virtual charter school operators propose and justify a price president in their information available to policymakers and prospective students. States must determine whether these schools’ financial structures are based on the real and responsible costs of full-time virtual charter schools. Too much leeway exists currently for these schools to become money-making ventures that sacrifice the interests of students.
Finally, the report urges states to help fund full-time virtual charter schools students via a performance-based system. This will increase access, legitimize virtual education in the eyes of the public, and potentially spur the demand for virtual charter schools, the organization says.
For interested readers, the full report on virtual charter schools is available online.