Distance Learning

Report: Virtual Charter Schools Require Reform

Three educational reform organizations released a set of policy recommendations for virtual charter schools with poor performance.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 50CAN and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers published a report addressing the underperforming virtual charter school sector, calling on states to overhaul legislation and to close chronically low-performing schools.

The 16-page report, “A Call to Action to Improve the Quality of Full-Time Virtual Charter Schools,” builds on another study published late last year that found that full-time virtual charter schools fall behind classroom-based public schools in nearly every metric. Students enrolled in full-time charter schools usually have 180 fewer days of math and less than half the amount of reading days than public school. Last year’s study reported that students in virtual charter schools in 13 out of 17 states performed worse than traditional public schools in reading. In math, virtual charter schools in 14 out of 17 states performed worse.

For the 180,000 students enrolled in 135 full-time virtual charter schools over 23 states and Washington, D.C., the report urges state leaders to work within state policy frameworks to close chronically underperforming full-time virtual charter schools, calling it their "legal and moral responsibility."

The organizations write, “To be clear, our organizations support full-time virtual schooling … Unfortunately, the results clearly show that significant problems exist within this part of the charter school movement. Left unchecked, these problems have the potential to overshadow the positive impacts this model currently has on some students.”

Additionally, the report includes six key policy recommendations that relate to authorization structure, enrollment criteria, enrollment levels, accountability and funding.

One recommendation is to change the authorizing structure. The report suggest that states should “only permit authorizers that have been granted statewide or regional chartering authority to oversee full-time virtual charter schools that enroll students from more than one district, while still allowing districts to authorize full-time virtual charter schools that enroll students only from within their districts.” If states cap the amount of authorizing fees authorizers can withhold, they can curb temptation to authorize for financial gain.

Another recommendation is to set enrollment criteria, so that enrollment in full-time virtual charter schools is “based on factors proven necessary for student success.” The report notes that students enrolled in these schools fall behind the school calendar and sometimes leave just after two years. Testimonials from parents point to the fact that distance education is not a good fit for every student. States need to determine enrollment criteria that coincides with charter school laws, according to the report.

Other reform recommendations can be found in the report, available on the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools site.

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].