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Study shows virtual charter schools are failing kids

11/20/2015
In an effort to advocate for the best interests of students and education, the IFT has closely monitored the establishment of “virtual charter schools,” a nationwide trend that has grown rapidly since the first program was created in 1996.

Our union has long had many concerns about these schools, which are defined in Illinois law as “cyber schools where students engage in online curriculum and instruction via the Internet and electronic communication with their teachers at remote locations and with student participating at different times.”  

Now a new study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University shows that we’ve been right to question their effectiveness.

The CREDO study is the most comprehensive one to date on online charter schools, with data from 158 schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia included in the analysis. And the results are troublesome.

Overall, the study shows that students of online charter schools demonstrated
dramatically lower academic performance in math and reading, compared to their counterparts in conventional “brick and mortar” schools. The results equate to an online charter school student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180 day school year. This pattern remained consistent across racial ethnic sub-populations and students in poverty.

Other concerning findings include:

•    Student–driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learning in 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.

The CREDO study provides clear data to support why the IFT and other education groups continue to have serious concerns about the proliferation of virtual charter schools. The data also points to why our union was a strong advocate in 2014 for HB 3937, a measure that extended Illinois’ virtual charter school moratorium through December 31, 2016 to allow time to study their effectiveness.

The IFT will continue to educate lawmakers about the proven pitfalls with these virtual charter schools during the moratorium period to ensure that careful consideration is given to any further expansion of these schools in our state.

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