No one walks down the produce aisle hoping that some cans containing rotten fruit have more options to choose from. Similarly, no family looking for a school for their child expects that they will have poor schools to choose from. This includes virtual schools, a rapidly growing segment of our public education system that has doubled enrollment in less than 10 years and now serves more than 275,000 students.
Unfortunately, a lot of virtual schools, including charter schools, have proved to be rotten apples. Since late last year, virtual charter schools in Indiana, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina have closed or closed due to academic or financial problems. Earlier this year, Electronic Classrooms of Tomorrow, the giant virtual school that served 12,000 Ohio students, shut down after it ramped up attendance data in the state, resulting in more than $80 million being paid to the school.
For taxpayers and many students, this bandh is a step in the right direction. Yes, virtual schools work well for a small number of students, but almost every study has found that the results for most students are disappointing. The most definitive study to date found that full-time virtual charters have a highly negative impact on student achievement, with students losing an average of 180 days in math over a 180-day school year. As one researcher concluded, “It’s literally like the child didn’t go to school for a whole year.”
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These are not the results that parents and taxpayers want from charter schools. In fact, they stand in contrast to the positive educational impact that brick-and-mortar charter schools have for children across the country. If virtual charters cannot live up to the high standard that all public charter schools are expected to meet, they will face the consequences of their seriously poor performance.
And while it is good to see that states and authorities – the organizations that provide big picture oversight of charter schools – take a stand against the dismal achievements of these schools, we must do more. After all, closing a failing school is not the same as providing a good school to a child. We must create all kinds of more quality options for children, families, and communities that don’t have enough good schools to choose from.
It starts with creating policies at the state level that help these public schools succeed. A roadmap released last year by my organization and two other national charter groups is a good place to start. It points to solutions such as setting clear expectations for each school’s performance; allowing only statewide authorities specializing in virtual schooling to oversee virtual operators with statewide jurisdiction; And funding virtual schools based on performance and how much it actually costs to run them.
If we are going to preserve the benefits that families accrue in this school model and provide better choices to students in the future, we must create an effective monitoring system that helps virtual schools succeed. We need a system that prevents bad apples from ever being offered as an option. We know how to get there, now we just have to go to work.