Are Virtual Schools a Good Idea?

Posted on April 11, 2011


In yet another move to try to fix education on the cheap rather than to invest in what we know works, a number of Texas Legislators are pushing various forms of virtual schools. In fact, a virtual high school has been proposed that would allow students to transfer from traditional public schools to the Virtual High School (VSN) as a full-time student.

I can see the attraction of such an idea–students in rural schools or impoverished urban schools who do not have access to quality teachers or advanced courses will now have access to them.

Yet, there is little research in this area. A report out today, however, sheds some light on this area.

The research was conducted by the highly respected Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). They arrived at some very interesting findings.

First, students attending cyber charter schools were more likely to be white, not economically disadvantaged, have higher initial test scores, and to be repeating a grade than students in regular charter schools. Thus, while proponents of virtual charter schools may push forth an argument of greater equity in access, the research in Pennsylvania shows that: 

students taking advantage of a virtual school were more affluent, White, and higher-performing than students enrolling in brick-and-mortar charter schools.

Second, students in cyber charter schools scored significantly lower in both reading and mathematics  than students in traditional schools and lower in mathematics than students in brick-and-mortar charter schools.

Third, 100% of the 8 cyber charter schools performed worse than their matched traditional schools.Further, the authors conclude (2011, p. 11):

In every subgroup with significant effects, cyber charter performance is lower than the brick and mortar

Given such evidence, why are our legislators rushing to jump off the cliff of cyber charter schools when the best available evidence produced by independent analysts show that such schools will be unsuccessful?

I think our leaders should think far, far more carefully about student outcomes instead of creating cheaper ways to educate students while allowing private entities to make a profit from our tax dollars!

Posted in: Charter Schools