Virtual School Meanderings

April 27, 2016

News from the NEPC: Study Suggesting Benefits of High-Track Classes Doesn’t Support Conclusion that Tracking Promotes Equity

From yesterday’s inbox…

Report’s weakness lies in not considering tracking’s likely negative effects on students placed in lower-track classrooms
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Study Suggesting Benefits of High-Track Classes Doesn’t Support Conclusion that Tracking Promotes Equity

Key Review Takeaway: Report’s weakness lies in not considering tracking’s likely negative effects on students placed in lower-track classrooms
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BOULDER, CO (April 26, 2016) – The practice of tracking, or grouping students into different classes according to perceived ability or achievement, is a common one in American high schools. A report published by the Brown Center at Brookings argues that tracking in eighth grade may promote greater equity because states with more such tracking tend to have more students passing AP exams in high school. However, a review of that study points out that, even if the associational evidence were convincing, the study should also have considered the effects of tracking on low-achieving students and the potential of the practice to exacerbate existing educational inequalities.

Marshall Jean, a graduate fellow at the University of Chicago, reviewed 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education – Part II: Tracking and Advanced Placement for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

This report’s data confirm the prevalence of tracking—noting that the average state tracks approximately three-quarters of its math students. But the author explored whether more or less tracking, on average, in a given state, was associated with later scores among students taking Advanced Placement math. Controlling for state-level poverty and the percent of students scoring at the advanced level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the study found a positive association between tracking in eighth grade and the proportion of students passing AP exams in high school. The relationship is moderately strong and holds true for White, Black, and Hispanic students.

The report suggests that the separate learning environments for high achievers created by tracking are important for providing students (including students of color) with the skills and knowledge to succeed with the most demanding coursework offered in high schools. The findings are based on correlations and cannot establish a causal relationship, nor can they identify what mechanisms might be at work if there were a causal relationship. However, the findings are consistent with prior research that has frequently identified test-score benefits of tracking for high-achieving students.

The reviewer’s primary caution is that even if one accepts that tracking can be beneficial to high-achieving students, the report’s conclusion that tracking could be “a potential tool for promoting equity” is dubious. This is because the report neglects to consider how tracking is likely to affect students placed in lower-track classes. A large body of other tracking research points to academic and other harms to students assigned to such lower tracks. Because disadvantaged and minority students are disproportionally assigned to those tracks, the equity claims of the report are particularly problematic.

Find Marshall Jean’s review at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-tracking

Find 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning – Part II: Tracking and Advanced Placement, by Tom Loveless, published by the Brookings Institution, at:
http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2016/03/brown-center-report/Brown-Center-Report-2016.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is 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), 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


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

April 22, 2016

4th Annual Virtual Schools Report

From Thursday’s inbox…

April 20, 2016

Contact:
Gary Miron, (269) 387-3883, gary.miron@wmich.edu
Daniel J. Quinn, (517) 203-2940, dquinn@greatlakescenter.org

4th Annual Virtual Schools Report

Online schools continue to grow, struggle

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Apr. 20, 2016) — The Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review report is the fourth in an annual series of research briefs on the fast-growing U.S. virtual school sector. This year’s report provides a comprehensive directory of the nation’s full-time virtual and blended learning providers.

The report finds little research has examined the inner workings of these schools. Also, the report finds that students attending these schools differ from those in traditional public schools, and the school outcomes are consistently below traditional public schools.

Gary Miron, professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at Western Michigan University, and Charisse Gulosino, assistant professor of leadership and policy studies at the University of Memphis are the authors of this year’s report. Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, provides a foreword to the report.

This report provides a detailed census of full-time virtual and blended schools, including student demographics, state-specific school performance ratings, and a comparison of virtual school outcomes with state norms.

Based on the findings, the authors make several recommendations, including:

  • Policymakers should slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools until their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed;
  • States should seek to understand why virtual and blended schools perform weakly, and how their performance can be improved;
  • Virtual and blended schools should be held to the same standards as other publicly funded schools;
  • Policymakers should require virtual schools devote more resources to instruction;
  • State agencies should ensure that virtual and blended schools fully report data related to the population of students they serve and the teachers they employ;
  • State and federal policymakers should promote efforts to design new outcome measures, which capture the unique characteristics of virtual and blended schools;
  • More research should be supported to understand policy options for funding and accountability mechanisms, and to increase our understanding of the inner workings of virtual and blended schools.

Find the report on the web:
http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) produced the report with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The report can also be found on the NEPC website:
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 develp reasearch-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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

April 21, 2016

News from the NEPC: Virtual and Blended Learning Schools Continue to Struggle and to Grow

From yesterday’s inbox…

Increasing numbers opting for online and blended learning schools despite evidence of poor performance
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Virtual and Blended Learning Schools Continue to Struggle and to Grow

Key Takeaway: Increasing numbers opting for online and blended learning schools despite evidence of poor performance
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BOULDER, CO (April 20, 2016) – The fourth edition of the National Education Policy Center’s annual report on online and blended learning schools provides a detailed overview and inventory of full-time virtual and blended learning schools, also called hybrid schools. Little rigorous research has examined the inner workings of these schools, but evidence indicates that students differ from those in traditional public schools, and that school outcomes are consistently below traditional public schools. Nevertheless, enrollment growth has continued, assisted by vigorous advertising campaigns, corporate lobbying, and favorable legislation.

Gary Miron, professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at Western Michigan University, and Charisse Gulosino, assistant professor of leadership and policy studies at the University of Memphis, are the authors of this year’s Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review. This report provides a detailed census of full-time virtual and blended schools, including student demographics, state-specific school performance ratings, and a comparison of virtual school outcomes with state norms.

The scope of this study covers charter and district-operated virtual schools and blended learning schools. Miron notes that “large private education management organizations dominate the full-time virtual sector and they are increasing their market share in the blended school sector.” Districts are opening their own virtual and blended learning schools, although these are typically smaller and with limited enrollment relative to charter-operated virtual and blended schools.

“Measures of school performance consistently show virtual school outcomes that lag significantly behind those of traditional brick-and-mortar schools,” said Gulosino. “While this finding did not surprise us, given past research with similar findings, we were surprised to find that blended schools tended to score similar or lower on performance measures than virtual schools.”

The authors conclude that, given the rapid growth of virtual and blended schools and their relatively poor outcomes on widely used accountability measures, several recommendations should be followed:

  • Policymakers should slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual schools and blended schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed. States should place their first priority on understanding why virtual schools and blended schools perform weakly under a college- and career-ready accountability system and how their performance can be improved before undertaking any measures to expand these relatively new models of schooling.
  • Oversight authorities should hold virtual schools and blended schools to the same standards as other publicly funded schools, if they fail to improve performance.
  • Policymakers should require virtual schools and blended schools to devote more resources to instruction, particularly by specifying a maximum ratio of students to teachers.
  • State agencies should ensure that virtual schools and blended schools fully report data related to the population of students they serve and the teachers they employ.
  • State and federal policymakers should promote efforts to design new outcome measures appropriate to the unique characteristics of full-time virtual schools and blended schools. Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) represents an opportunity for those states with a growing virtual and blended school sector to improve upon their accountability systems for reporting data on school performance measures.
  • Policymakers and other stakeholders should support more research to identify which policy options—especially those impacting funding and accountability mechanisms—are most likely to promote successful virtual schools and blended schools. More research is also needed to increase understanding of the inner workings of virtual and blended schools, including such factors as the curriculum and the nature of student-teacher interactions. Such research should help identify and remedy features that are negatively affecting student learning.

Find Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review, by Gary Miron and Charisse Gulosino, on the web at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2016

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), 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


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

April 18, 2016

News from the NEPC: Report on Online Charters a Solid Contribution

Note this item that is specifically related to K-12 online learning…

Much work remains to be done for online charter schools to be successful
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Report on Online Charters a Solid Contribution

Key Review Takeaway: Much work remains to be done for online charter schools to be successful
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BOULDER, CO (April 18, 2016) – Over the past decade, online charter schools have increasingly been the subject of critical or negative news. A recent study from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) provides an in-depth analysis of policy features across the states that allow online charters, concluding that perhaps the online charters should use a separate regulatory framework than brick-and-mortar charters.

Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, reviewed The Policy Framework for Online Charter Schools for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

Professor Miron describes the report as presenting a well-organized description of policy features and as including a set of policy recommendations that generally, but not always, follow well from the study’s evidence.

CRPE is an organization that often advocates for charter schools, and the report’s discussion of findings, as well as comments about the report from national charter school leaders, suggests that rather than acting to improve online charter schools, the charter school establishment would prefer to separate online charter schools from brick-and-mortar charter schools and govern them with a separate policy framework. While it is true that online charter schools were not envisioned in the charter school laws passed in the 1990s, Miron notes that, similarly, private education management organizations (EMOs) were not envisioned in charter school legislation. Yet today they play a dominant role and undermine the charter school ideal that assumed that charter schools would be autonomous and locally run public schools.

Miron cautions that online charter issues are not completely distinct from issues that arise from other charters. Yet he also cautions against the largely negative findings being seized on by groups that are broadly critical of charter schools, since many of those findings are indeed unique to online charters.

“Overall,” Professor Miron concludes, “the detailed analyses of policy environments and the summary of problems in the online charter school sector included in this report should be useful to policymakers who are willing and able to pursue more restrictive oversight and increased accountability for online charter schools.”

Find Professor Miron’s review at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-online-charters

Find The Policy Framework for Online Charter Schools, by Rosa Pazhouh, Robin Lake, & Larry Miller, published by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, at:
http://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/crpe-policy-framework-online-charter-schools-final_0.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is 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), 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


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

April 7, 2016

News from the NEPC: Reviewed Study Explores Correlation between Vouchers and Crime

From yesterday’s inbox…

Study suggests possible negative correlation but does not warrant claims that vouchers reduced crime
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Reviewed Study Explores Correlation between Vouchers and Crime

Key Review Takeaway: Study suggests possible negative correlation but does not warrant claims that vouchers reduced crime
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BOULDER, CO (April 6, 2016) – The potential benefits of education policies extend far beyond the usual metric of test scores. A policy might be considered beneficial, for example, if it leads to reduced criminal behavior. That is the claim made in a recent report from University of Arkansas researchers, who studied the relationship between crime and a school voucher program. A review of the report finds that the study, while suggestive of a possible correlation, has several weaknesses and certainly does not support the implication that the voucher programs caused a reduction in crime.

Using data from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the researchers compared crimes processed through the Wisconsin courts for program participants and a matched sample of public school students. Although most of these comparisons showed no association, the report finds that some subgroups of MPCP students were less likely to commit crimes as adults.

Clive Belfield, an Associate Professor of Economics at Queens College, City University of New York, reviewed the report, The School Choice Voucher: A “Get Out of Jail” Card? for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

Professor Belfield writes that education and crime are often found to be negatively correlated, so if a program has an educational benefit, it is reasonable to expect that criminal behavior might be reduced. Moreover, the past MPCP research, from this same group of researchers, has announced some benefits, albeit modest and mixed. But the findings in this new study do not warrant any strong claims.

One concern is that the paper employs a matching method that omits some important factors that explain school choice and crime. So differences between the voucher group and the matched (control) group cannot easily be attributed to the voucher policy.

Also, the study’s results are highly variable, with most of the comparisons between MPCP participation and measures of adult crime showing statistically insignificant results. Professor Belfield explains that a valid interpretation of the report is that vouchers and crime are, in fact, not correlated. Conversely, for subgroups and estimation approaches that do yield statistically significant associations, the MPCP effects appear to be too extreme. Finally, even assuming that vouchers do reduce adult crime, it remains unclear by what mechanisms vouchers might do so.

Professor Belfield also cautions that the report is wrong to assert that the methods used justify a causal inference. The study’s title should not imply that voucher programs are a “get-out-of-jail” card, and the evidence in the study is associational, not causal.

Belfield concludes that, though the report contributes to policy and practice in looking at how educational processes influence behavioral outcomes, “it is unclear how useful the actual findings of this paper are for policymakers.”

Find Professor Belfield’s review at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-school-choice

Find The School Choice Voucher: A “Get Out of Jail” Card? by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick J. Wolf, published by the University of Arkansas, at:
http://www.thewheelerreport.com/wheeler_docs/files/9398uaworkingpaper.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is 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), 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


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.
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