Virtual School Meanderings

January 11, 2012

How Do For Profit Online Schools Fare? Examining The Responses

I referenced this in the Virtual Schooling In The News entry this past Saturday, but I wanted to highlight it again.

How are students at privately run virtual schools performing?
There were 43% more students learning online at virtual schools managed by private companies in 2011 than in 2010. However, a report being published today says such schools have not outperformed traditional public schools and charter schools on standardized tests. The National Education Policy Center found that 27% of privately managed virtual schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress, compared with about 52% of traditional schools. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (1/6)

Note that since the article is in their subscription model, I have copied and pasted it below as well.

I have to be honest and say that I find this all too amusing, given the neo-liberal and neo-conservative proponents of K-12 online learning are always talking about accountability and quality and student performance.  I suspect they’ll claim this study – like all of the other studies that don’t go in their favour – are bias and methodologically flawed; probably even calling The New York Times article itself a hit piece and generating some kind of top ten list featuring parents and students.  It all reminds me of a couple of blog entries that Brian @ CLRN posted a few weeks back: CA Charter School Association says, “Close CA Virtual Academy @ Kern” and Parent Group says, “We Love Bad Charter Schools” – so much for quality and accountability (see also Another View: Data can bedevilcharter schools)…

While I want to delve into the actual results, I’ll leave that for another day when I have some more time on my hands (and fewer academic writing obligations).  But I did want to take a quick look at some of the typical response that we see to this kind of piece.  As a reminder, the report basically says that, using AYP data

  • 48.2% of charter schools run by for-profit companies made AYP
  • 27.4% of cyber charter schools run by for-profit companies made AYP
  • 56.4% of charter schools run by non-profit organizations made AYP

The first types of response that we often see is the claim that cyber charter schools typically deal with a higher percentage of at-risk students, and that is why their performance is so far off.  For example:

“The study’s results may reflect the kinds of students flocking to online public schools—such as those who have fallen behind in high school—more than the quality of instruction, said Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a nonprofit advocacy and research group in Vienna, Virginia.  “The kids enrolling in online schools needed something other than the traditional system,” Patrick said in a phone interview.

From Educational Management Organizations: The Rest of the Story

I guess there are two things to consider here, the first is the actual claim and the second is the relevance.  In looking at the actual claim, I can tell you that at least one national cyber charter company that I have partnered on for a couple of grant proposals in the past reports that their cyber charter schools at-risk student population enrollment, including their special education enrollment, are at statewide averages in almost every state that they operate.  Further, as I noted in my testimony on Michigan Senate Bill 619:

Proponents of cyber charter schools will argue these schools often enroll a higher percentage of at-risk students. Each of these legislative audits spoke to that issue. While the Minnesota audit found that full-time online schools did enroll a smaller percentage of gifted and talented students, it also reported the percentages of special education students and students eligible for free or reduced lunch were basically the same. The Wisconsin audit actually revealed that from 2002 to 2008 there were 75 percent fewer students receiving special education services in their cyber charter schools. The 2006 and 2011 Colorado data indicated few differences in the proportion of students attending cyber charter schools based on all of the State’s definitions encompassing characteristics of at-risk students.

Aside from these questionable claims – at least questionable based on the existing data – the bigger question for me is the relevance of a statement about enrolling a higher percentage of at-risk students.  Basically, so what?  If the premise of the argument is that we need to close traditional public schools because they are failing the students, and then divert these students to charter schools and cyber charter schools as a solution, by extension doesn’t that mean that charter schooling and cyber charter schooling should address the achievement deficit?  I mean you don’t hear these same people arguing to keep traditional public schools open and opposing converting them into for profit charter schools because the student body has a high percentage of at-risk students.  I’m saying that the notion is a red herring designed to provide an excuse for these programs in the face of the same kinds of failures to address these students’ needs that they experienced in the public school.

Similarly, if you look at the second typical response that you see to these kinds of stories you’ll note the following kinds of comments:

Jeff Kwitowski from K¹² said, “We reiterated our commitment to performance and accountability but also agreed with Sec. Duncan that the AYP metric is flawed and unfairly labels schools as “failing.”

From Educational Management Organizations: The Rest of the Story

Jeff Kwitowski, spokesman for the company, based in Herndon, Va., said using the adequate yearly progress standard to judge virtual schools is unfair. “It’s not a reliable measure. The secretary of education has said that the AYP measure under (No Child Left Behind) is broken and unfairly labels schools as failing.”

From Virtual Charters Lag Behind Other Schools’ Performance, Report Says

Now I’m not here to argue in favour of AYP as a valid measure.  In fact, the authors that these people are all responding to state in the very first bullet point related to student performance that “AYP provides a crude indicator of the extent to which schools are meeting state standards.”  Again, I’m concerned with the relevance of such a statement.  If AYP is a bad measure, why is it an acceptable measure to use when determining that it is okay to closed a traditional public school or convert that traditional public school into a charter school run by a for-profit company?  Why is AYP an acceptable measure to use when arguing in favour of lessening restrictions on full-time cyber charter school in a state?  And if AYP is an acceptable measure to use when making these arguments, why isn’t it an acceptable measure to use when judging how these for-profit charter schools or these cyber charter schools are doing?  Quite dishonest if you ask me!

Students of Online Schools Are Lagging

Published: January 6, 2012

The number of students in virtual schools run by educational management organizations rose sharply last year, according to a new report being published Friday, and far fewer of them are proving proficient on standardized tests compared with their peers in other privately managed charter schools and in traditional public schools.

About 116,000 students were educated in 93 virtual schools — those where instruction is entirely or mainly provided over the Internet — run by private management companies in the 2010-11 school year, up 43 percent from the previous year, according to the report being published by the National Education Policy Center, a research center at the University of Colorado. About 27 percent of these schools achieved “adequate yearly progress,” the key federal standard set forth under the No Child Left Behind act to measure academic progress. By comparison, nearly 52 percent of all privately managed brick-and-mortar schools reached that goal, a figure comparable to all public schools nationally.

“There’s a pretty large gap between virtual and brick-and-mortar,” said Gary Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement and research at Western Michigan University and a co-author of the study.

“E.M.O.’s” — educational management organizations, a term coined by Wall Street in the 1990s — now operate 35 percent of all charter schools, enrolling 42 percent of all charter school students, according to the report. “Charter schools are publicly funded and they are serving public school students,” Dr. Miron noted. “But they are increasingly privately owned and privately governed.”

Some of the management companies are nonprofit organizations — the largest is the KIPP Foundation, with 28,261 students — while others are for-profit companies (K12 Inc. leads this sector, with 65,396). The report focuses on those that have full-service agreements to run schools, as opposed to vendors that offer ancillary services like curriculum development.

The number of schools — virtual as well as brick-and-mortar — managed by for-profit E.M.O.’s dropped 2 percent in 2010-11 from the previous year, but the number of students leaped 5 percent to 394,096. In the nonprofit sector, there was a 12 percent increase in the number of schools to 1,170 and a 62 percent increase in students to 384,067. Nonprofit E.M.O.’s have a better track record of academic success than for-profits, and smaller E.M.O.’s in general perform better than larger ones, at least defined by the federal standard of adequate yearly progress — a metric Dr. Miron called “very crude.”

Data was not available for about 10 percent of the schools run by for-profit E.M.O.’s and 20 percent of those run by nonprofits. Among those that did provide data, 48 percent of the schools run by for-profits met the federal standard, as did 56 percent of those run by nonprofits. About 52 percent of traditional public schools meet the standard.

Among large for-profit E.M.O.’s — those that manage 10 or more schools — 43 percent met the federal progress standard, compared with 62 percent of the schools run by E.M.O.’s with one to three schools. Among nonprofits, 63 percent of those with four to nine schools met the standard, compared with 52 percent for organizations running 10 or more schools and 56 percent for those running one to three.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 6, 2012, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Students Of Schools On Internet Are Lagging.


  1. Reblogged this on Things I grab, motley collection .

    Comment by plerudulier — January 11, 2012 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

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    Pingback by How Do For Profit Online Schools Fare? Examining The Responses | Utbildning på nätet | — January 11, 2012 @ 4:34 pm | Reply

  3. […] couple of days ago, I wrote an entry entitled How Do For Profit Online Schools Fare? Examining The Responses, where I described how the neo-liberal and neo-conservative proponents of K-12 online learning have […]

    Pingback by Measuring Success « Virtual School Meanderings — January 13, 2012 @ 11:09 am | Reply

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    Pingback by TY! @mkbwsu for How Do For Profit Online Schools Fare? Examining The Responses ... | Students with dyslexia & ADHD in independent and public schools | — January 16, 2012 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

  5. […] Michael Barbour is an assistant professor at Wayne State University. He has a great deal of experience with K-12 Virtual education. His Virtual School Meanderings blog is highly active. In this article we see some of the claims and rough statistics being debated in the press about the effectiveness of For-Profit schools online schools. There's also a bit about Non-Profit online schools. This is far from an in-depth research piece, but is a great way to get up on the issues. I appreciate Michael's voice on this issue. He shoots logic holes statements that need to be challenged. Keep it up Professor Barbour! ~ Dennis  […]

    Pingback by How Do For Profit Online Schools Fare? Examinin... — July 15, 2013 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

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