A new national study reinforces serious questions that have been raised in other recent reports about the viability of virtual schools as a means to improve student achievement. The new report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) shows that students at the nation’s largest virtual-school company are falling further behind in reading and math scores than students in brick-and-mortar schools according to the AFT Legislative Hotline (July 2012).
“Children who enroll in a cyberschool, who receive full-time instruction in front of a computer instead of in a classroom with a live teacher and other students, are more likely to fall behind in reading and math,” according to Gary Miron, an NEPC fellow and lead author of the report. He goes on to say,”Computer-assisted learning has tremendous potential, but at present, our research shows that virtual schools such as those operated by K12 Inc. are not working effectively.”
These schools also have more students per teacher and pay less for teacher salaries and benefits than brick-and-mortar schools. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
“Texas accounts for one of every 11 children in this country,” said Frances Deviney, Texas KIDS COUNT director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “The choices we make now to improve our kids’ lives will drive not only the future of Texas, but the future of our country. Texas needs to prioritize its policy choices by investing in children first since we are producing the next generation of leaders.” You can read the Texas fact sheet at http://www.cppp.org/files/10/. Texas ranks 44th in children’s health and well being based on recent studies, so clearly we need to look a little closer at what can be done to improve these rankings. Spending more on education is a critical choice that legislators should embrace.
Quality does indeed count, and the lack of adequate funding for education from the state is dragging down educational quality and blighting the future of Texas. There is only so much pie and way too many hands reaching in for a piece.
States have five primary options for funding virtual schools:
(1) State appropriation.
(2) Funding formula.
(3) Course fees.
(4) No state role.
(5) A combination approach.
State appropriations are a common way for states to fund state-led online
programs. The funding either flows directly from the state to the school or
through another channel, such as the state department of education. If monies are going to these virtual schools, accountability must increase and student success should be a determining factor when deciding where the funds should go.
The funding formula model for virtual schools resembles how brick-and-mortar public schools are funded in that it is based on per pupil counts. A key difference with this model in the funding of virtual schools is it tends to be based on successful course completion. This is different than brick-and-mortar public schools which are funded based on average daily attendance or enrollment with no aspect of funding tied to successful outcomes.
This is an interesting new approach that may have significant implications when considering quality of both brick-and-mortar and virtual schools – moving to outcomes and quality-based funding models centered on successful completion. Tying teacher pay to student performance has proven to be a much disputed and badly received idea since there are so many variables beyond the control of the teacher.
There is concern about quality of low performing virtual school programs. A few bad online programs in any state can harm all virtual schools from bad publicity due to failure to serve students with quality teaching and courses. To prevent this from occurring, it is important that any state engaged in virtual schooling ensures that clear quality and accountability measures exist for virtual schools and that clear processes are in place for closing a school that
is academically unsuccessful. The National Education Technology Plan
recommends that states, districts and schools develop quality measures
and accreditation standards for e-learning that mirror those required
for traditional course credit.
In conclusion, there are numerous factors to consider in regard to virtual schools. Public schools are floundering across the nation as traditional brick and mortar institutions fight over crumbs and struggle for accountability. It is evident that technology is growing exponentially and that effective teachers must find innovative ways to bring it into their classroom to enhance instruction. However, classroom instruction and interaction still play a critical role in the education of our youth. It will be a sad day when children no longer enter the classrooms, and online instruction becomes the surrogate for teachers who facilitate learning.