Report questions efficacy of full-time virtual schools

For instance, “a school that K12 manages in Georgia with nearly 10,000 students was omitted from the data set, while several schools we do not manage—with more than 5,000 students enrolled overall—were inaccurately included in the study,” Flood said. There also were errors in the data about special-education students and those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, he said.

Flood added that the report provides no evidence to support its claim that students are falling further behind in math and reading, because the test scores of students from prior years when they were enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school weren’t provided.

“K12-managed schools tend to enroll students who are behind academically,” he said. “Rather than simply using static, end-of-the-year state test data, K12 administers the Scantron Performance Series exam to students in grades 3-10 as a way to gauge growth over the academic year. Student growth is compared to the Scantron norm group, which is comprised of thousands of students who represent the national demographics in terms of socio-economic status and ethnicity. As the Trends report demonstrates, our students have consistently outperformed the norm group in the majority of grade levels in both math and reading.”

Flood also said the NEPC is funded in part by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, and that the policy center “poses as an independent think tank, but in fact serves as the policy and research arm of the interest groups that consistently oppose charter schools, online charter schools, and parent choice in public education.”

To see K12’s full response to specific points of NEPC’s report, click here.

NEPC released its report in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., on July 18, during a forum to which Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), was invited.

Patrick, a former director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, had not had the chance to read NEPC’s report, but she agreed with its conclusion that more research on virtual schools is needed.

“As people push for new and different approaches to learning in this space, the current weak measures of effectiveness need updating to measure true student success based on outcomes,” Patrick told eSchool News. “There is a significant need to create new metrics of measuring student growth and promoting quality assurance that are outcomes-based for K-12 online learning.”

According to Patrick, this new approach to measures of performance for online learning programs should include proficiency, individual student growth, and success in closing the achievement gap—down to the student level.

There are also some specific hallmarks of what makes a successful online learning program, said Patrick. These include:

  • Excellent teaching and learning;
  • The ability to personalize instruction for each students’ needs with high-quality content and technology tools;
  • Regular feedback and monitoring of student progress and learning; and
  • A focus on data-driven instruction and accountability.

“There also needs to be an investment in federal research for K-12 online learning to fill in major gaps in knowledge, baseline data, and understanding about the field and support for research on effective models and approaches,” said Patrick.

Meris Stansbury

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