Okay, maybe lie is too strong a word. I suspect mislead is a better choice (but lie does make a better title). What I’m referring to is the frequent misuse of the available research to make full-time online learning – like that offered by cyber charter schools – seem much better than what it is. For example, as the House of Representatives gets ready to consider Senate Bill 619, Dan Quisenberry (President, Michigan Association of Public School Academies) penned an opinion piece in several Michigan newspapers entitled GUEST OPINION: Cyber charters proved effective and highly in demand. In the piece, he states:
Those who oppose Michigan’s cyber charters put forth some curious arguments as they try to shut the door on students like Steve. They claim that a cyber education is “substandard.” They say there’s no data or research to support the fact that these schools offer a quality education. They’re wrong.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education released the report “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.” Researchers looked at more than a thousand empirical studies of online, learning conducted from 1996 through 2008. They concluded the “students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
So much for the notion that no data exists to support the value of a cyber education.
For those of us who have actually read the report, we know that at best Mr. Quisenberry is misrepresenting both the findings of the report and what the report actually says. At worst he is lying to an unsuspecting public to further the ideological agenda promoted by his organization.
There are three things wrong with what Mr. Quisenberry says about the US Department of Education meta-analysis that make his claims that there is data to support cyber schooling inaccurate.
- The meta-analysis contained only five K-12 focused studies, all of which were based on supplemental online learning. There were no studies of full-time online learning, like the kind that the cyber charter schools require.
- Research focused on supplemental online learning, such as the five studies contained in the meta-analysis, have historically contained very skewed samples in favour of the online cohort.
- The meta-analysis itself states, “despite what appears to be strong support for [online and] blended learning applications, the studies in this meta-analysis do not demonstrate that online learning is superior as a medium” (p. xvii). It makes this statement due to the small sample of K-12 studies and due to the high degree of variability in the individual findings for each study.
I spoke to the first two items in my own testimony on SB 619 that I gave to the House Education Committee, and I spoke to the third item in a comment that I left on the online article.
But the fact of the matter is this isn’t an isolated incident. I can’t count the number of times I have had cyber charter proponents, along with members of the board of directors and the senior executive at iNACOL (i.e., the main practitioner organization for K-12 online learning), use that exact same line.
So I ask, why do proponents of cyber charter schools feel the need to mislead the public with false information?
I note that the folks in Georgia are having a similar conversation, as evidenced by this blog entry at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.