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Topic: [ncsm-members] Online Elementary and Secondary Schools Expand, Academic Performance Lags
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Online Elementary and Secondary Schools Expand, Academic Performance Lags
Posted: May 2, 2013 2:16 PM
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From The National Education Policy Center, Thursday, May 2, 2013. See
Note: The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to
produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to
inform education policy discussions. It is guided by the belief that
the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when
policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on NEPC,
please visit
As Online Elementary and Secondary Schools Expand, Academic Performance Lags

New NEPC Study Finds Limited Oversight, Excessive Costs of Virtual
Schools Drain Millions in Public Funds


Jamie Horwitz, 202/549-4921; <>
Alex Molnar, 480/797-7261; <>

URL for this
announcement: <>

BOULDER, CO (May 2, 2013) -A national study, released today by the
National Education Policy Center (NEPC), offers a comprehensive
review of 311 full-time virtual schools operating in the United
States and finds serious and systemic problems with them.

University of Colorado Boulder Professor Alex Molnar, who edited
Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2013: Politics, Performance, Policy, and
Research Evidence, summed it up this way: "Even a cursory review of
virtual schooling in the U.S. reveals an environment much like the
legendary wild west. There are outsized claims, lagging performance,
intense conflicts, lots of taxpayer money at stake, and very little
solid evidence to justify the rapid expansion of virtual schools."

Lagging Performance - Soaring Enrollment

On the publicly-available metrics of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP),
virtual schools lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar

In the 2010-2011 school year, 52 percent of brick-and-mortar district
and charter schools met AYP, contrasted with 23.6 percent of virtual
schools - a 28 percentage-point gap. Virtual schools also enroll a
far smaller percentage of low-income students, special education
students, and English language learners than brick-and-mortar public

"It now appears that early adopters of the virtual school model were
largely home-schoolers who were used to studying alone and who
generally had lots of parental guidance," said Western Michigan
University Professor Gary Miron. "As virtual schools have expanded,
it appears that their performance has slipped dramatically."

Currently virtual schools enroll more than 200,000 elementary and
secondary students in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
McLean, Virginia- based K12 Inc. is by far the largest private
operator in this sector.

Expansion Driven by Lobbying and Advertising Rather than Student Success

Despite virtual schools' track record of students falling behind
their peers academically or dropping-out at higher rates, states and
districts continue to expand virtual schools and online offerings to

Publicly-funded virtual school expansion appears to be driven by
lobbying and advertising dollars. It is not justified by the
research evidence, nor is it governed by thoughtful policy.

Columbia University Professor Luis Huerta, another of the report's
authors, noted that, "In the past two years a number of states,
including Wisconsin, Oregon, Louisiana, and Michigan, either raised
or eliminated enrollment caps for full-time virtual schools."
Co-author Jennifer King Rice, a University of Maryland professor,
points out that at the same time, "None of those states passed
legislation strengthening accountability and oversight."

High Cost to Taxpayers

The overall cost to taxpayers for lackluster virtual schools has been
significant. Despite incurring much lower costs than
brick-and-mortar schools, virtual school operators receive the same
allocation as charter schools that pay for buildings, desks,
textbooks, and other costs associated with more traditional school

The consistently poor performance of full-time virtual schools makes
it imperative to know more about these schools. Stanford University
Professor Emeritus Larry Cuban, who contributed a review of current
research knowledge on virtual education to the NEPC report and has
long followed education technology issues, explained: "The current
climate of elementary and secondary school reform that promotes
uncritical acceptance of any and all virtual education innovations is
not supported by educational research. A model that is built around
churn is not sustainable; the unchecked growth of virtual school is
essentially an education tech bubble."


The authors of the NEPC report conclude that continued rapid
expansion of full-time cyber schools is unwise. More research is
needed, and to enable such research, state oversight agencies need to
require more, and better refined, data. Financial controls and
funding unique to cyber schools need to be established.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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