Virtual School Meanderings

May 19, 2019

Media Release: Reports Shed New Light On California Charter Schools’ Fiscal Impact

Note that the only reference to cyber or virtual charter schools in this series is in the second report, where it indicates that they analysis excludes the 25,000 students who enrolled in virtual charter schools from their analysis.

I should also note that one of the difficulties with this type of costing analysis is that it assumed that the loss is uniform.  For example, if a district loses ~30 students and the associated funding that they can simply cut a class of students (as ~30 students is roughly one class).  The problem is that in these ~30 students there may be three grade 1 students, five grade two students, one grade three student and so on.  This means that the school would not be able to cut a single class of students, but make do with the lower level of funding while trying to accommodate the same number of grades and classes.

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Media Release
Travis Pillow
Reports shed new light on California charter schools’ fiscal impact

Seattle, Wash. May 17, 2019 – The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is releasing three briefs that challenge some commonly held beliefs about the impact California charter schools have on school districts.

The reports come as a state task force reviews potential charter school policy changes, and state lawmakers prepare to debate a series of bills affecting charter schools. They conclude:

Charter school growth does not account for all district enrollment declines. In the most recent school year (2018–2019), charter school enrollment growth can account for little or none of the enrollment loss experienced by Los Angeles and San Diego Unified school districts. In Oakland, the district gained more students than did charter schools. District enrollment losses stem from a combination of demographic shifts and students attending schools in nearby districts, private schools, homeschooling, or charter schools. Read our full brief on district enrollment losses.

There is no evidence that charter schools are to blame for fiscal distress in California school districts. Based on state data, we find no relationship between the share of students enrolled in charter schools and the likelihood school districts will enter fiscal distress. Between 1998 and 2015, an average of just 1.5 percent of school districts where charter schools enroll more than 10 percent of students entered fiscal distress. Read our full brief on district fiscal distress.

Charter schools have, according to available evidence, important benefits for California communities and limited costs to the state. Like all policies, charter schools impose costs and generate benefits for California students. For example, in Southern California and the Bay Area, they have been shown to lift student achievement in reading and math—and particularly for students who are black, Hispanic, and living in poverty. These benefits should be considered alongside any costs. Read our full brief on costs and benefits.

“Charter school policy is too important for California to get wrong,” said Robin Lake, CRPE’s director. “It is important for policymakers to carefully analyze the impact of charter schools for all California students, and the full range of challenges facing public education in the state.”

The reports and an accompanying blog post offer recommendations for policymakers:

1.  The state should work with school districts to develop more accurate budget and enrollment projections. This will help restore trust with taxpayers and teachers negotiating salaries, and enable an honest conversation with taxpayers and state policymakers about public schools’ funding needs.

2.  Policymakers should consider transition aid for districts where students leave for charter schools, as states like Massachusetts have done. This could help districts deal with costs they can’t easily shed, and compete more effectively to attract students.

3.  In districts struggling with the effects of persistent enrollment declines, charter schools and the state could pay into debt reduction funds that a district could tap if it made strides reducing costs and increasing financial transparency. Charter schools, in return, could receive improved access to district facilities.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with CRPE expert, please contact Travis Pillow at 407.376.3105 or

About CRPE

Part of the University of Washington Bothell, the Center on Reinventing Public Education is one of the nation’s leading sources for transformative, evidence-based ideas to improve education. To ensure all students are prepared for a rapidly changing future, CRPE puts forward rigorous research and policy analysis to help educators, policymakers, civic and community leaders, parents, and students themselves reimagine education systems and structures. Learn more about CRPE’s current research here.
Center on Reinventing Public Education
Improving education through transformative,
evidence-based ideas about/research/etc
600 1st Avenue, Suite 206 | Seattle, WA 98104 United States

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October 27, 2015

Responses To CREDO’s Online Charter School Study 2015

As a follow-up to the entries on New National Study Details The Operations And Effects Of Online Charter Schools and CREDO – Online Charter School Study 2015, I have to say that I have found the immediate response kind of funny.

The first thing to remember is that CREDO has tended to publish pro-charter research, and that this particular study was funded by the Walton Foundation (who love all things school choice).

The second thing to remember is that researchers that have reviewed previous CREDO reports have had significant concerns with the research methodology that CREDO uses.  For example:

In most of their past research, CREDO has tended to find that charters are doing a good job using this questionable methodology.

Now in the current Online Charter School Study 2015 CREDO has found that there is little redeeming about student performance in online charter school.  So we all know what is going to happen – in fact, I’ve written about what was and is going to happen…

And of course, the predictable happened/is happening…

K12 Inc. Responds to Online Charter School Report / Analysis of Online Charter School Study by CREDO/Mathematica/CRPE

  • even though the study found that online charter schools enroll fewer disadvantaged students, but still claim that they do enroll more at-risk student (i.e., argue that the research is wrong)
  • raises same critiques about the methodology that organizations like the NEPC (linked above) have been raising for years
  • data is dated and the findings are different now, they have their own internal, non-reviewed, corporate reports to prove it

CREDO Study of Online Learning Gets an Incomplete

  • highlights the minor positive aspects of the report (even though the report is almost completely negative towards online charter schools)
  • raises same critiques about the methodology that organizations like the NEPC (linked above) have been raising for years
  • data is dated and the findings are different now,the for profit corporations (who have no vested interest in keeping the gravy train going) have their own internal, non-reviewed, corporate reports to prove it
  • co-opts the findings for a call for some of his own pet projects (i.e., things iNACOL wants that would open open the market to allow for more profiting and pillaging).

Response to CREDO at Stanford Report

Reaction to New Online Charter School Study

  • summarizes the findings,then complains about the fact that the study didn’t include their pet project (kind of like the journal reviewer that recommends rejection of your manuscript, and then outlines the study that they would have done if they were in your shoes)

Analyzing the CREDO Online Charter School Report: A Call for Improved Performance Metrics and Quality Assurance

  • summarizes the findings, then co-opts the results for a call for some of their own pet projects

Findings in Stanford Online School Study Have No Bearing on Blended Learning

  • summarizes the findings, then complains about the fact that the study didn’t include their pet project

National Alliance Responds to CREDO’s Virtual Charter Schools Report

  • ignore the evidence and argues that charter schools work, research from this same group (ignoring the flawed methodology that now even online charter advocates acknowledge) says so
  • we should close charter schools that don’t work (while at the same time fighting against any meaningful regulation or policy that would allow states to do this)
  • charter schools only serve a small number of students (but make big profits for the companies that do serve that small percentage)
  • finally, confound the issue by reminding us that the study didn’t include blended charter schools, and those are examples of online charter schools that do work

CER Responds to Online Charter School Report

  • even though the study found that online charter schools enroll fewer disadvantaged students, but still claim that they do enroll more at-risk student (i.e., argue that the research is wrong)
  • raises same critiques about the methodology that organizations like the NEPC (linked above) have been raising for years
  • changes the topic altogether (“Will someone please things about the children!”)

Shouldn’t surprise anyone…

CREDO – Online Charter School Study 2015

A couple of hours ago I posted New National Study Details The Operations And Effects Of Online Charter Schools.  Here are some more details on the report.

The actual report:

The press releases:

Early media:

More in an hour or two…


New National Study Details The Operations And Effects Of Online Charter Schools

So earlier today, this showed up in my inbox…

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OCTOBER 27, 2015

Online Charter School Students Falling Behind Their Peers

New national study details the operations and effects of online charter schools





















































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Innovative new research suggests that students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools. The National Study of Online Charter Schools, released today, offers a rigorous analysis of the operations of online charter schools, their policy environments, and their impacts on student achievement. Conducted by three independent research institutions, the study is the most comprehensive examination of online charter schools to date, and is organized into separate, topical report volumes. In Volume I,Mathematica Policy Research describes the universe of online charter schools, the students they serve, and their operations. In Volume II, theCenter on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington describes the policy environments of online charter schools and provides recommendations to state policymakers. In Volume III, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University describes the achievement effects of online charter schools.


Volume I—Inside Online Charter Schools by Mathematica Policy Research

Media Contact—Jennifer de Vallance 202-484-4692 /

Mathematica’s report offers a snapshot of the 200 online charter schools operating across the country and the 200,000 elementary, middle, and high school students they serve. The report examines the instructional programs of online charter schools; methods used to engage students and parents, along with expectations of parental involvement; the teachers and principals of online charter schools; and the schools’ management and governance.

Mathematica’s analysis finds:

Student-driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learningin online charter schools, with 33 percent of online charter schools offering only self-paced instruction.
Online charter schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day.
Maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far, identified by online charter school principals nearly three times as often as any other challenge.
Online charter schools place significant expectations on parents,perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction, with 43, 56, and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction.

Brian Gill, a Mathematica senior fellow and lead author of the report, said, “Challenges in maintaining student engagement are inherent in online instruction, and they are exacerbated by high student-teacher ratios and minimal student-teacher contact time, which the data reveal are typical of online charter schools nationwide. These findings suggest reason for concern about whether the sector is likely to be effective in promoting student achievement.”

Additional findings from the Volume I report are available: In Focus Fact Sheet.

Volume II—The Policy Framework for Online Charter Schools by the Center on Reinventing Public Education

Media Contact—Debra Britt 206-221-3331

The Center on Reinventing Public Education conducted an extensive examination of how state policy shapes the online charter school landscape. Researchers found that online charter schools exist in a number of different policy environments due to variation in state charter law and administrative regulation.

Most of the existing regulation is reactive to controversy (restrictions on growth and autonomy), rather than proactive policies to guide the unique opportunities and challenges of online charters. The authors found several drawbacks to forcing online schools into the charter context, including:

Open admission requirements that prevent schools from screening for students who are most likely to be successful in an online school
Authorizing and accountability provisions that are not well suited to the unique challenges of regulating online schools
Funding mechanisms that preclude outcomes-based funding

CRPE director Robin Lake, who co-authored the study, said, “We need policies that address legitimate concerns without needlessly restricting growth.” The report recommends that policymakers consider moving online schools out of the charter context, or craft unique provisions specific to online charters.

Volume III—Online Charter School Study by CREDO at Stanford University

Media Contact—Meg Cotter Mazzola

The CREDO at Stanford University report presents the most comprehensive findings available to date about impacts of online charter enrollment on the academic progress of students. Although findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their peers at traditional public schools. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year. This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial and ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.

“While the overall findings of our analysis are somber, we do believe the information will serve as the foundation for constructive discussions on the role of online schools in the K–12 sector. We see an opportunity for the providers to do a better job of documenting the benefits they provide to their students and to connect with and learn from operators who are doing well,” said Dr. James Woodworth, senior quantitative research analyst for CREDO at Stanford University.

This mixed-methods analysis included data from 158 online schools across 17 states and the District of Columbia. The data set for online school students is restricted to those students attending public, full-time online charter schools.

The National Study of Online Charter Schools was funded by the Walton Family Foundation. “We support research on difficult questions like these because we want to know what is working for kids—and what is not. Innovation in education takes time, but we must test whether new ideas are working and make changes when we learn that ideas with potential are falling short,” said the director of research and evaluation for the Walton Family Foundation, Marc Holley. “We’re grateful that CRPE, Mathematica, and CREDO have studied these schools and are sharing their findings. Knowing the facts helps parents, educators, policymakers, and funders make smarter, more informed decisions that benefit children,” said Holley.

About Mathematica:
Mathematica Policy Research seeks to improve public well-being by conducting studies and assisting clients with program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data analytics and management. Its clients include foundations, federal and state governments, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company is headquartered in Princeton, NJ, with offices in Ann Arbor, MI; Cambridge, MA; Chicago, IL; Oakland, CA; and Washington, DC.

About The Center on Reinventing Public Education:
The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center developing systemwide solutions for K-12 public education. CRPE is based in Seattle and affiliated with the University of Washington Bothell. CRPE’s work is funded entirely through philanthropy, federal grants, and contracts.

About CREDO at Stanford University:
CREDO at Stanford University was established to improve empirical evidence about education reform and student performance at the primary and secondary levels. CREDO at Stanford University supports education organizations and policymakers in using reliable research and program evaluation to assess the performance of education initiatives. CREDO’s valuable insight helps educators and policymakers strengthen their focus on the results from innovative programs, curricula, policies or accountability practices.

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