It’s no secret: I think charter schools need to be
watched like a hawk to make sure they’re giving kids the best possible opportunity to learn. Turns out, the folks at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and 50CAN are doing just that! Earlier this week, they came together to
release a report on the performance of virtual charter schools—and as it turns out, that performance is not so great. In fact, the results show that full-time virtual charter school students receive 180 fewer days of learning in math, and 72 fewer day of learning in reading, than their traditional public school peers. Yikes. Of the 17 states studied by Stanford’s CREDO, full-time virtual charter school students perform worse than their peers in both math and reading in 14 and 13 states, respectively. In only two states did full-time virtual charter school students outperform their traditional school peers in reading—and there were no states where they outperformed their peers in math. When looking at subgroups of students (White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, multi-racial, those in poverty, English-language learners, and special education students), the students of the same subgroup in traditional public schools outperformed the full-time virtual charter school students
in every subgroup. This is not good. In fact, it's downright horrific. Virtual charter schools are given to the public as an option for students that aren't best suited to the traditional model of schooling—an option to learn in an environment best suited to their needs and learning styles. And instead, they are failing students. Period. But fortunately, there are potential solutions—presuming they are adopted and diligently implemented—that could fix the many issues full-time virtual charter schools face. Among the ideas proposed by the three organizations:
Setting minimum academic performance standards for renewal.
Holding authorizers accountable for the results of the schools in their portfolios, including goals related to enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, attrition, finances, and operations.
Making renewal and closure decisions based upon those same performance goals.
The authors close by making a call to state leaders and authorizers to do more, and to do better, for students. They also commit themselves to working together, and with leaders and authorizers, to improving the conditions for learning in virtual charter schools. In a time when the education reform space is facing
some difficulties in unifying, it’s encouraging to see these groups come together and make a stand for students.
Valentina Payne joined Bellwether Education Partners in 2021 as chief of staff to Andy Rotherham on the External Relations team. Prior to Bellwether, she spent seven years at brightbeam, where she most recently served as its chief growth officer, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and strategic growth of the organization.