Virtual School Meanderings

June 14, 2021

Instructional quality in virtual schools

An item from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice on our recent National Education Policy Center report.

Inside Look

Great Lakes Center’s exclusive subscriber email featuring key points, information and social media content about reviews and research

June 10, 2021READ IN BROWSER
Hello, Great Lakes Center subscriber:

Teachers and students across the country needed to adjust to online learning rapidly when COVID-19 forced schools to close. Teachers quickly learned how to effectively administer online learning. Many believe education will look different post-pandemic. Many predictions point toward a hybrid style of learning that includes in-person and virtual learning.
Despite being around for years, for-profit virtual school companies have yet to ensure quality instruction. Policymakers must make some key changes to make sure every child is getting the education they need to thrive.
In our Virtual Schools Report 2021, we examined the extremely poor student performance of most for-profit virtual schools, the marketing and lobbying that goes into their popularity as well as the millions of taxpayer dollars that flow into these schools with little to no oversight.
Today we’ll examine the instructional quality of these schools.

Dr. Gretchen Dziadosz

Executive Director
Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice

SUMMARY

One of the large selling points for for-profit virtual school is that learning is highly individualized, but this is contested by experts. Students who use virtual learning options can progress through curriculum at their own pace, but that doesn’t mean learning is individualized. Often the virtual option only allows for one mode of instruction, while a teacher who instructs in person has more diverse options for covering the same content depending on a student’s learning style.
COVID-19 has also shown us that many students and teachers are unprepared for learning in an online environment. This hasn’t changed with the growth of for-profit virtual schools, and there’s been slow progress on research and policy to ensure high-quality teachers for virtual environments.
There is also little research on how to identify quality teachers for virtual learning, as well as how to recruit and retain them, to evaluate their effectiveness and provide support. Teacher training has not yet evolved to include learning how to teach in a virtual environment.
Many have raised concerns about the student-teacher ratio in virtual schooling. Across the country, some online teachers have had as many as 100 students per class. This greatly affects the quality of learning as well as teacher retention.
In the last two years, lawmakers have done little to address issues related to instructional program quality. In our Virtual Schools Report, we made the following recommendations to improve instructional quality in virtual schools:
  • Require curricula that are aligned with state and district standards.
  • Define training and licensure requirements specific to virtual learning.
  • Maintain data on teachers and staff that will allow policymakers to monitor patterns and assess quality.
  • Develop guidelines for appropriate student-teacher ratios to address retention issues.
  • Develop teacher evaluation rubrics using emerging research.
  • Examine the responsibilities of school principals to make sure they are prepared to be effective and use best practices.

HELPFUL RESOURCES

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

School will look different post-pandemic, and it’s likely we will see more students and families turning to virtual options. Unfortunately, policymaking has not caught up to the popularity surge of virtual schooling, meaning students are subject to the kinks of a new system that could potentially impact their overall learning. It’s important to take emerging research into account when considering policy decisions (or lack thereof) for virtual schools.

SOCIAL SHARES

Want to share this Think Twice Review with your social networks? We drafted some sample social media posts for your use.
High student-teacher ratios and a lack of training have led to problematic outcomes for #virtualschools. Policymakers can consider emerging research to help improve instructional quality at these schools. High student-teacher ratios and a lack of training have led to problematic outcomes for #virtualschools. Policymakers can consider emerging research to help improve instructional quality at these schools.
There’s little research on how to recruit and retain quality teachers for #virtuallearning, or how to train them to provide quality instruction. As for-profit virtual schools continue to grow, that needs to change. There’s little research on how to recruit and retain quality teachers for #virtuallearning, or how to train them to provide quality instruction. As for-profit virtual schools continue to grow, that needs to change.
COVID-19 has shown us that many teachers are unprepared for #onlineteaching. There’s been slow progress to ensure their preparation, something policymakers must act on as for-profit virtual schools continue to grow. COVID-19 has shown us that many teachers are unprepared for #onlineteaching. There’s been slow progress to ensure their preparation, something policymakers must act on as for-profit virtual schools continue to grow.
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Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
Copyright © 2019 Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you opted in via our website.

Our mailing address is:
Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice
PO Box 1263
East Lansing, MI 48826-1263

May 21, 2021

Virtual schools take millions in taxpayer dollars despite low operating costs, poor student achievement

An item from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice on our recent National Education Policy Center report.

Inside Look

Great Lakes Center’s exclusive subscriber email featuring key points, information and social media content about reviews and research

May 20, 2021READ IN BROWSER
Hello, Great Lakes Center subscriber:

The funding of for-profit virtual schools is a national embarrassment. Many of these schools are plagued with massive financial scandals and many siphon millions of taxpayer dollars for corporate profits. In 37 states and the District of Columbia, millions of taxpayer dollars fund for-profit, full-time virtual schools, though research shows these schools have the lowest operating costs and the worst student achievement in the country.
Read on to learn more.

Dr. Gretchen Dziadosz

Executive Director
Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice

SUMMARY

Our newly released Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021 report found, “With high student-teacher ratios and little or no need to pay for facilities, transportation, breakfast and lunch programs, and other operating costs, these for-profit virtual schools realize substantial cost savings compared to brick and mortar schools, and therefore are able to profit from current school funding formulas.”
Although there have been many state attempts to pass laws that that tie funding directly to the operating costs of virtual schools, no state has enacted one.
Almost everywhere, for-profit online virtual schools – with lower brick and mortar costs, higher student teacher ratios, no transportation costs, no lunch programs, and no expenses for extra-curricular programs – receive the same per-pupil amount as traditional public schools. Despite this tremendous financial advantage, they produce significantly poorer results.
For-profit virtual schools have also had many financial scandals around funding. Below are the most recent or egregious examples, but there are many more.
  • The virtual provider A3 Education in California was indicted for defrauding $50 million in tax dollars. The top two accused recently pled guilty. As part of their plea agreement, the two men agreed to return more than $210 million in cash, 13 houses and shares in third-party companies they obtained through the A3 scheme.
  • Another Choice Virtual Charter in Idaho is accused of allowing its administrator to siphon funds to other companies she owns.
  • Chicago Virtual School abruptly shut down when allegations of fraud and inappropriate spending surfaced.
  • A state audit in Indiana found two for-profit virtual schools run by American Pathways Academy received more than $103 million in state funds and funneled more than $85 million to related parties, including several companies run by the schools’ founder. They were accused of inflating student numbers to increase revenue.
  • Three years after shutting down amid a scandal for overreporting student enrollment numbers, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is still refusing to repay $80 million in Ohio state aid. This is despite the school’s former treasurer agreeing to help state authorities.
  • EPIC Charter has been hit with a $10.5 million fine from the state of Oklahoma for misreporting how it spends money and overpaying for administrative costs. This is in addition to a previous fine of $11.2 million.
  • Stride, previously named K12 Inc., has been sued three times in the past year according to its own SEC filing. The shareholders in these cases allege K12 Inc. misled customers about its capabilities and expertise. Stride’s CEO made almost $16 million in 2020.
Why have legislatures not stopped these abuses? Two words: Lobbying and marketing. We will cover both in our next issue.
Due to these concerns and more, the authors of our Virtual Schools Report recommended:
  • Developing new funding formulas based on the actual costs of operating virtual schools.
  • Developing new accountability structures for virtual schools.
  • Establishing geographic boundaries and manageable enrollment zones for virtual schools.
  • Developing guidelines and governance mechanisms to ensure virtual schools do not prioritize profit over student performance.

HELPFUL RESOURCES

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Virtual schools portray themselves as a convenient solution to learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. These schools, in many cases, have demonstrated poor handling of taxpayer dollars. Combined with poor student achievement and little oversight, this is a recipe for disaster that not only does a disservice to students but wastes state resources that could be allocated to public schools.

SOCIAL SHARES

Want to share this Think Twice Review with your social networks? We drafted some sample social media posts for your use.
Many for-profit #virtualschools are plagued with massive financial scandals and are siphoning millions of taxpayer dollars for corporate profit. Read more in our Virtual Schools Report: Many for-profit #virtualschools are plagued with massive financial scandals and are siphoning millions of taxpayer dollars for corporate profit. Read more in our Virtual Schools Report:
Despite having the lowest operating costs and worst student achievement, 37 U.S. states use millions of taxpayer dollars to fund for-profit, full-time #virtualschools. Despite having the lowest operating costs and worst student achievement, 37 U.S. states use millions of taxpayer dollars to fund for-profit, full-time #virtualschools.
With little oversight, #virtualschools use taxpayer dollars to fund corporate profit. Attempts to pass legislation for accountability have failed many times. With little oversight, #virtualschools use taxpayer dollars to fund corporate profit. Attempts to pass legislation for accountability have failed many times.
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Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
Copyright © 2019 Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you opted in via our website.

Our mailing address is:
Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice
PO Box 1263
East Lansing, MI 48826-1263

May 17, 2021

For-Profit Virtual Schools: Why Doesn’t Anyone Notice Their Terrible Student Achievement?

Another item featuring the recent NEPC report on virtual schools that I am a co-author on.

Inside Look

Great Lakes Center’s exclusive subscriber email featuring key points, information and social media content about reviews and research

May 13, 2021READ IN BROWSER
Hello, Great Lakes Center subscriber:

If your child’s brick and mortar public school had a drop-out rate of over 45% and some of the lowest student test scores among other area schools, you would be genuinely concerned, to say the least. If the school board spent a large portion your tax dollars on marketing rather than educating, you would be extremely angry. If your school had twice as many students per teacher than surrounding districts, you would be furious. And, if your school superintendent made over $12 million a year, you would be livid.
This is exactly what’s happening with virtual schools. The problem is most parents and legislators don’t know it.

Read on to learn more.

Dr. Gretchen Dziadosz

Executive Director
Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice

SUMMARY

For years now, in every reputable study, researchers have documented the terrible student achievement rates of virtual schools run by for-profit companies. This week, the 2021 Virtual Schools report that we commissioned was released.
The appalling test scores and graduation rates associated with for-profit virtual schools are not due to high-poverty students enrolling in these schools. It’s quite the opposite. The report shows these schools are far less likely to enroll special education students, as well as minority students, low-income students and English Language Learners.
Many state education leaders know virtual schools lack acceptable student achievement results. Pennsylvania reported all its virtual schools are providing unacceptable results. Louisiana rated nine of its 12 virtual schools as unacceptable, with and two not rated at all for unexplained reasons. Ohio rated 15 of its 17 virtual schools as unacceptable. Michigan, with 80 virtual or blended schools, rated 71 as unacceptable. Florida rated 19 of its 29 rated virtual schools as unacceptable. The list goes on.
These are truths about virtual learning, each supported by research outlined in our report:
  • The pandemic increased demand for virtual learning options.
  • Few students do well in a full-time online environment.
  • Virtual schools created and run by school districts have the best student achievement, while virtual schools run by for-profits tend to have the worst achievement.
  • While virtual learning proponents claim it is better tailored to individual student needs, the research evidence says otherwise.
  • Perhaps most alarming: These platforms pose a significant threat to the integrity of school curricula and instructional programs.

HELPFUL RESOURCES

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

The promises made by for-profit companies running virtual schools are large and enticing. But the significantly low student achievement should be a huge red flag to parents, school districts and policymakers. These schools are failing students, and policymakers have yet to address this huge area of pressing concern, among many others.

SOCIAL SHARES

Want to share this Think Twice Review with your social networks? We drafted some sample social media posts for your use.
For years, researchers have documented terrible student achievement rates of #virtualschools. @greatlakescent’s new Virtual Schools Report has the details. For years, researchers have documented terrible student achievement rates of #virtualschools. @greatlakescent’s new Virtual Schools Report has the details.
COVID-19 has increased the demand for #virtualschool options. Parents, schools and policymakers should know the truth about their abysmal student achievement. COVID-19 has increased the demand for #virtualschool options. Parents, schools and policymakers should know the truth about their abysmal student achievement.
Policymakers have yet to address many issues with #virtualschools, including their incredibly poor student achievement. Policymakers have yet to address many issues with #virtualschools, including their incredibly poor student achievement.
Follow Us
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Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
Copyright © 2019 Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you opted in via our website.

Our mailing address is:
Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice
PO Box 1263
East Lansing, MI 48826-1263

May 7, 2021

Virtual School Enrollments Grow. Performance, Research Evidence, and Policymaking Missing in Action

Note that I am one of the authors of this report – for full disclosure.

May 6, 2021

Contacts:
Michelle Renée Valladares: (720) 505-1958, michelle.valladares@colorado.edu
Gary Miron: (269) 599-7965, gary.miron@wmich.edu

Virtual School Enrollments Grow. Performance, Research Evidence, and Policymaking Missing in Action

A NEPC Policy Brief Funded By the GLC

Key Takeaway: Virtual school performance lags behind brick-and-mortar schools.

EAST LANSING, Mich. (May 6, 2021) – Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021 provides vital scholarly analyses of virtual schools at a time of increased enthusiasm for moving schooling online, nationally and internationally. The report examines the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools. It also reviews the relevant available research related to virtual school practices, provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft virtual school policy, and offers policy recommendations based on the available evidence.

A team of researchers led by Alex Molnar, Gary Miron, Michael Barbour, Luis Huerta, and Jennifer King Rice found that enrollments in virtual schools have continued to climb, with 477 full-time virtual schools enrolling 332,379 students in 2019-2020. Yet this growth of the sector has continued despite scant research to support it and continued poor overall performance. Not only did the proportion of acceptable performance ratings for full-time virtual schools drop in 2019-2020 to 42.8%, but the average graduation rate of 54.6% for these schools falls well below the 85% overall average national graduation rate. Furthermore, the sector is dominated by for-profit providers. Although for-profit EMOs operated only 29.8% of full-time virtual schools, these schools enrolled 59.1% of all virtual school students.

Policymakers have yet to adequately address six pressing areas of concern related to virtual schools: their governance, funding, accountability, curriculum, instruction quality, and teacher quality. Nor have policymakers figured out how to regulate virtual schools’ student-teacher ratios or ensure that virtual schools provide access and an equitable education for every student.

The report is organized into three sections: (1) Full-Time Virtual and Blended Schools: Enrollment, Student Characteristics, and Performance; (2) Research into Virtual and Blended Schools: A Lasting Legacy of Little Impact; and (3) Key Policy Issues in Virtual Schools: Finance and Governance, Instructional Quality, and Teacher Quality. Altogether, the report offers a number of recommendations for policymakers, including:

  • Use performance data to inform funding decisions.
  • Create goals for a comprehensive research program designed to help develop policy for, and improve practice in, virtual and blended schools.
  • Identify and maintain data on teachers and instructional staff that will allow education leaders and policymakers to monitor staffing patterns and assess the quality and professional development needs of teachers in virtual schools.
  • Develop new funding formulas based on the actual costs of operating virtual schools.
  • Develop guidelines and governance mechanisms to ensure that virtual schools do not prioritize profit over student performance.

Find Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021, by Alex Molnar, Gary Miron, Michael Barbour, Luis Huerta, and Jennifer King Rice at:
https://www.greatlakescenter.org

This research brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:
https://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

Visit the Great Lakes Center website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/

May 6, 2021

NEPC – Virtual School Enrollments Grow. Performance, Research Evidence, and Policymaking Missing in Action

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 10:08 am
Tags: , , , ,

Note the release of this semi-annual report.

Virtual School Enrollments Grow. Performance, Research Evidence, and Policymaking Missing in Action

Key Takeaway: Virtual school performance lags behind brick-and-mortar schools.

Find Documents:
Publication Announcement: https://nepc.info/node/10874
NEPC Publication: https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2021

Contact:
Michelle Renée Valladares: (720) 505-1958, michelle.valladares@colorado.edu
Gary Miron: (269) 599-7965, gary.miron@wmich.edu

BOULDER, CO (May 6, 2021) – Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021 provides vital scholarly analyses of virtual schools at a time of increased enthusiasm for moving schooling online, nationally and internationally. The report examines the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools. It also reviews the relevant available research related to virtual school practices, provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft virtual school policy, and offers policy recommendations based on the available evidence.

A team of researchers led by Alex Molnar, Gary Miron, Michael Barbour, Luis Huerta, and Jennifer King Rice found that enrollments in virtual schools have continued to climb, with 477 full-time virtual schools enrolling 332,379 students in 2019-2020. Yet this growth of the sector has continued despite scant research to support it and continued poor overall performance. Not only did the proportion of acceptable performance ratings for full-time virtual schools drop in 2019-2020 to 42.8%, but the average graduation rate of 54.6% for these schools falls well below the 85% overall average national graduation rate. Furthermore, the sector is dominated by for profit providers. Although for-profit EMOs operated only 29.8% of full-time virtual schools, these schools enrolled 59.1% of all virtual school students.

Policymakers have yet to adequately address six pressing areas of concern related to virtual schools: their governance, funding, accountability, curriculum, instruction quality, and teacher quality. Nor have policymakers figured out how to regulate virtual schools’ student-teacher ratios or ensure that virtual schools provide access and an equitable education for every student.

The report is organized into three sections: (1) Full-Time Virtual and Blended Schools: Enrollment, Student Characteristics, and Performance; (2) Research into Virtual and Blended Schools: A Lasting Legacy of Little Impact; and (3) Key Policy Issues in Virtual Schools: Finance and Governance, Instructional Quality, and Teacher Quality. Altogether, the report offers a number of recommendations for policymakers, including:

  • Use performance data to inform funding decisions.
  • Create goals for a comprehensive research program designed to help develop policy for, and improve practice in, virtual and blended schools.
  • Identify and maintain data on teachers and instructional staff that will allow education leaders and policymakers to monitor staffing patterns and assess the quality and professional development needs of teachers in virtual schools.
  • Develop new funding formulas based on the actual costs of operating virtual schools.
  • Develop guidelines and governance mechanisms to ensure that virtual schools do not prioritize profit over student performance.

Find Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021, by Alex Molnar, Gary Miron, Michael Barbour, Luis Huerta, and Jennifer King Rice at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2021

This research brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

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