Virtual School Meanderings

April 30, 2017

AERA 2017 – Who Loses Students to Low-Quality Schools? Relationships Between Cyber Charters and Educational Disadvantage Over Time

The ninth session I’m blogging at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) is:

Who Loses Students to Low-Quality Schools? Relationships Between Cyber Charters and Educational Disadvantage Over Time

  • In Event: School Choice: Politics of Opportunity and Identity

Sun, April 30, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Meeting Room Level, Room 216 A


This research examines how shifts in knowledge about the quality of a specific school type relate to changes in demographics of school districts that lose students to this school type. To do so, this study analyzes cyber charter school enrollment in Pennsylvania, showing that as the perceived quality of the cyber charter school sector turns negative, the composition of school districts losing students to this sector changes so that educationally disadvantaged districts are more likely to lose a higher proportion of students. These findings have implications for school choice theory in that certain choice decisions may not promote educational improvement if educationally disadvantaged students are offered and make choices that perpetuate their educational disadvantage.


  • Bryan Arthur Mann, Pennsylvania State University
  • David P. Baker, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Renata Horvatek, The Pennsylvania State University

The original charter school legislation in Pennsylvania was introduced in 1997, and cyber charter schools emerged from this original legislation – which were actually codified in law in 2002.  Bryan’s study focused on examining the historical student enrollment data (i.e., expansion, distribution, and transition), as well as the historic media reporting about the sector – and what both mean from a systematic standpoint.

In terms of tracking and mapping the enrollment – it has been growing, and fairly consistently in terms of geographic spread throughout the state.

The research tracking has largely focused on student performance – and have generally shown a very weak level of performance.

The media tracking for a long time focused almost exclusively on issues related to funding and governance, but in recent years it has begun to transition to have some focus on student outcomes – but only in a negative way.

School districts where educational attainment has been low tend to lose more and more students to cyber charter schools.  Interestingly, based on the researcher’s data, most of the student moves into cyber charter schools meant that a student was transition from one low attainment school to an even weaker attainment school (i.e., generally leaving a poorly performing brick-and-mortar school to attend a worse cyber charter school).

While the article for this study is still in the peer review process, you can see some of the details here in this Education Week article.

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