A new study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), an organization that routinely supports charter schools, suggests that a separate regulatory framework be used for online charter schools from what is used for charter schools that meet in traditional classrooms.
The report, "The Policy Framework for Online Charter Schools," argues that students enrolled in online charter schools frequently show lower academic performance in math and reading when compared to their peers at traditional schools. Despite this, enrollment in these schools continues to increase with the help of advertising campaigns, corporate lobbying, and favorable legislation.
The study is said to be the most comprehensive look into charter schools to date and is organized into separate reports based on topic.
Researchers looked into how state policy works to affect the online charter school landscape. Report findings suggest that online charter schools exist in various policy environments as a result of differences in state charter law and administrative regulation. The majority of the existing regulations take restrictions on growth and autonomy into consideration rather than having proactive policies when looking at the challenges that online charter schools face.
A number of drawbacks were found when online schools were forced into a charter school context. These include open admission requirements, which cause schools to be unable to pre-screen prospective students in order to determine those which would be most likely to succeed in an online environment, as well as authorizing and accountability provisions that the authors say are not suitable to meet the unique challenges faced when regulating online charter schools. They go on to list funding mechanisms that preclude outcomes-based funding as another drawback.
Gary Miron of Western Michigan University and the Think Twice think tank review project reviewed the report. His review describes it as a well-organized description of policy features, going on to say that the recommendations made for policy typically, although not always, follow the evidence provided in the study.
Miron found the report to be one of three that have been sponsored by the Walton Foundation, which he states all appear to have been coordinated and planned together despite having been independently prepared and reported. "Together, they [the three reports] provide a comprehensive examination of online charter schools," Miron said.
However, he remains critical of one recommendation made in the report — that online schools should be given more flexibility when it comes to limiting the number of students that gain access. He suggests that instead, policymakers look to ensure online schools are spending more on instruction so that students are given as much support as possible from qualified educators.
"Overall, the detailed analyses of policy environments and the summary of problems in the online charter school sector included in this report should be useful to policymakers who are willing and able to pursue more restrictive oversight and increase accountability for online charter schools," states Miron.