Despite serious problems and a lack of research support, virtual schools continue to spread

From the National Education Policy Center

Lawmakers throughout the nation continue to support the spread of virtual schools despite the fact that research reveals overwhelming evidence of poor performance, according to a new review by the National Education Policy Center.

Given the evidence, the review recommends that policymakers:

  • Slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
  • Implement measures that require virtual and blended schools to reduce their student-to-teacher ratios.
  • Enforce sanctions for virtual and blended schools that perform inadequately.
  • Sponsor research on virtual and blended learning “programs” and classroom innovations within traditional public schools and districts.

The three-part research brief titled Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, examines the claim that online curriculum can be tailored to individual students more effectively than curriculum in traditional classrooms.

Proponents contend that this potential for individualization allows virtual schools to promote greater student achievement than can be realized in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. NEPC researchers found, however, that the research evidence does not support this claim. Yet the lack of research support has done little to dampen policymakers’ enthusiasm, perhaps because virtual schools are marketed as promising lower operating costs, primarily via cutbacks in instructional personnel and facilities.

Section I of the brief, Full-Time Virtual and Blended Schools: Enrollment, Student Characteristics, and Performance, provides straightforward analyses of the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools. The data reveal that full-time virtual and blended learning schools continue to perform poorly.

Section II, What Virtual and Blended Education Research Reveals, points to a serious shortfall in the scholarly research. It reviews the relevant available studies related to virtual school practices and finds that much of this is atheoretical, methodologically questionable, contextually limited, and overgeneralized. As a result, the available research is of little value in guiding policy.

Section III, Key Policy Issues in Virtual Schools: Finance and Governance, Instructional Quality, and Teacher Quality, provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft policy regarding virtual schools. As in past years, bills to increase oversight of virtual schools continue to be introduced. Some legislative actions have been prompted by state audits and legal challenges, as exemplified by recent virtual school controversies in California and Ohio. As such, the bills have been aimed at addressing accountability and governance structures, as well as curbing the operation of for-profit virtual schools. However, there is little evidence that legislative actions are being informed by available research on the performance of virtual schools.

The authors recommend that policymakers hit the pause button on further virtual school expansion until we understand how to address the poor performance of these schools.

Find Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, edited by Alex Molnar, at:
http://www.greatlakescenter.org

This research brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit it at: http://nepc.colorado.edu.

‘No-excuses’ charter schools could do more harm than good, analysis finds

“No-excuses” charter schools – which promote strict disciplinary policies, longer school days, and intensive academic tutoring at the expense of the arts and physical education – could do more harm than good, according to a new review by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

“While supporters of ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say these practices improve student achievement, they fail to acknowledge the potential negative effects these practices have on students, teachers, and families,” according to the report.

The Think Twice report disputes an earlier report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute claiming that practices found in “no-excuses” charter schools could help close the achievement gap, especially in low-performing schools. Think Twice reviewers Joanne W. Golann, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, and Chris Torres, an assistant professor of K-12 educational administration at Michigan State University, conclude that the original report had several flaws and should not be used to inform education policy or as a tool to expand “no-excuses” charter schools and policies.

The Think Twice report noted that several studies have demonstrated the “no-excuses” practices can negatively impact a student’s socio-emotional development and later success. “Many ‘no-excuses’ charter schools have harsh, disparate discipline policies that can result in suspensions or expulsions for violations, no matter how small,” it says.

The Think Twice report says:

  • “No-excuses” schools aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach to turning around schools; and there is no solid evidence to back up claims that “no-excuses” disciplinary policies are the core reason for these schools’ success.
  • “No-excuses” schools have higher than average teacher turnover rates due to concerns about workload, long hours, and the “no-excuses” model itself.
  • Policymakers, education leaders, and other decision-makers should pause before expanding “no-excuses” schools and polices.
  • Policymakers, educators, and researchers need to work together to address and understand the impact of the “no-excuses” model before expanding it to other charters or even traditional public schools.
  • We need to embrace culturally relevant educational practices that support equitable and fair learning opportunities for all students and ensure students can learn in a safe environment.
  • Educators should focus on all aspects of student growth – including academic and emotional and personal growth – rather than only focusing on academic achievement to measure student success.

Find out more at the Great Lakes Center website.

Vouchers are far worse for student achievement than previously thought, analysis concludes

A new analysis by the Center for American Progress concludes that private school vouchers are more harmful to student achievement than previously thought and that students attending private voucher schools miss out on approximately one-third of a year of classroom learning.

“This analysis builds on a large body of voucher program evaluations in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., all of which show that students attending participating private schools perform significantly worse than their peers in public schools—especially in math,” according to the summary titled The Highly Negative Impacts of Vouchers. “A recent, rigorous evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program from the U.S. Department of Education reaffirms these findings, reporting that D.C. students attending voucher schools performed significantly worse than they would have in their original public school.”

The report concludes that voucher programs have a more negative impact on students than exposure to violent crime at school, feeling unsafe in school, high teacher turnover, and teacher absenteeism.

It cited the lack of instructional time in voucher schools as a main factor: “The researchers found that private schools offer less instructional time than public schools. On average, private schools offer 65.5 minutes less per week in reading instruction and 48.3 minutes less per week in math instruction. More quality instructional time is linked to higher student achievement. Therefore, with each additional year that students are enrolled in the voucher program, they lose even more instructional time.”

Read more about the study:

The Highly Negative Impacts of Vouchers – Center for American Progress

How bad are school vouchers for students? Far worse than most people imagine. Indeed, according to the analysis conducted by the authors of this report, the use of school vouchers-which provide families with public dollars to spend on private schools-is equivalent to missing out on more than one-third of a year of classroom learning.

At request of Janesville Education Association, school board votes to support Voucher Transparency Bill

At the request of the Janesville Education Association, the Janesville School Board this week voted, 9-0, to support the Wisconsin Taxpayer Voucher Transparency Bill. The bill, authored by state Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire), would require property tax bills to include information from the school district where the property is located regarding the amount of any net reduction in state aid to the district as a result of pupils enrolled in the statewide voucher program, the Racine voucher program, or the Milwaukee voucher program.

The resolution notes that, statewide, property taxes increased by over $25 million in 2016-17 due to school boards levying to offset lost aid due to the voucher system. The statewide property tax impact is estimated to grow to $37 million in 2017-18 and to $47 million in 2018-19. The Janesville School District was required to levy $187,180 in taxpayer dollars to be allocated to the statewide voucher program for 2017-18, and local taxpayers are not provided with information about their tax dollars being spent on private and voucher schools.

School boards in Eau Claire, Holmen, Stevens Point, Wausau, South Milwaukee, Holmen, Baraboo and Merrill have passed similar resolutions.

Here is the entire resolution:

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Facebook founder’s attempts at school ‘reform’ fail

Privatizing, shutting out educators and parents doesn’t result in success

School “reforms” in New Jersey, funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, failed at providing meaningful change for students, a new review shows.

Read the Review

Reports stating that the so-called “reforms” helped students were called into question by academic reviewers, who cautioned against the New Jersey experiment being replicated anywhere else. Specifically, claims of success were based on reports that omitted important factors for student learning and test score outcomes and utilized crude data supported by isolated, small effect sizes.

Additional factors contributing to the failure in the Zuckerberg experiment included attempts to shut out teachers, parents and communities and expansion of privately run charter schools while shutting down community schools.

The review was commissioned by NEPC with funding from the Great Lakes Center.

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The extremist and ultraconservative views taught at some taxpayer-funded voucher schools

The Huffington Post examines what some evangelical Christian schools – some largely funded with taxpayer money through vouchers – are teaching. It starts with an interview with a former student who attended multiple evangelical Christian schools where she was taught that to dance was to sin, that gay people were child molesters and that mental illness was a function of satanic influence. Teachers at her schools talked about slavery as black immigration, and instructors called environmentalists “hippie witches” and taught that Islam is a violent religion and evolution has “no real scientific basis.”

Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach What They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.

PORTLAND, Ore. ― It was late morning in an artsy cafe, the smell of coffee and baked goods sweetening the air, and Ashley Bishop sat at a table, recalling a time when she was taught that most of secular American society was worthy of contempt.

Charter schools contribute to segregation, lack accountability and are failing students, new studies find

Charter schools contribute to segregation, lack accountability and are failing students, according to two new studies out this week.

In one study, the Network for Public Education calls charter schools a “fiscal and educational disaster.”

“Charter schools can and have closed at will, leaving families stranded. Profiteers with no educational expertise have seized the opportunity to open charter schools and use those schools for self-enrichment. States with weak charter laws encourage nepotism, profiteering by politicians, and worse,” according to the NPE report titled Charters and Consequences. (Read summary at EducationVotes.org.)

The 48-page report details the consequences of loosely regulated charter policy and the effects that charters are having on public schools. Whatever the benefits charter schools offers to the few, the overall negative consequences must be addressed, stated the report.

In the second study, the Associated Press says charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated — “an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.”

AP says its analysis of charter schools in 42 states found that charters promote “extreme racial isolation.” As of school year 2014-2015, AP says, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.

AP quotes Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney, as saying: “Desegregation works. Nothing else does. There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”

Read the EducationVotes.org summary of the NPE study:

Charter school experiment has “failed,” concludes national investigation – Education Votes

The charter school industry’s unregulated, taxpayer-funded business model of education is a “fiscal and educational disaster,” concluded a report that is the result of investigations, visits and interviews over the course of a year. Get the latest information on the issues that matter to students, educators, and public schools.

 

Read the Associated Press analysis:

US charter schools put growing numbers in racial isolation

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds – an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools. National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation.

 

Voucher schools lack accountability and put students with disabilities at risk, federal study finds

Private schools funded through the taxpayer-financed voucher program generally fail to notify parents of students with disabilities that they are forfeiting rights and protections when they transfer from public schools, according a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The report says vouchers schools lack accountability and transparency, and put students with disabilities – whose parents often don’t know they are giving up federal protections by enrolling in private schools – at greater risk.

Their recommendation: “Congress should consider requiring states to notify parents/guardians about changes in federal special education rights when a parent moves a child from public to private school.”

“The new report from GAO shows the outrageously low standards to which many school voucher programs are held,” said U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who requested the GAO review.

“As Secretary DeVos continues her assault on public education and efforts to privatize schools, it is more important than ever to ensure that these programs are held accountable,” Pocan said. “Every student deserves the opportunity to go to a school that meets their needs and every parent should have the guarantee that their child is in a safe, equitable, and successful environment. The U.S. Department of Education must address the concerns in this report and should immediately institute the GAO’s recommendations. Our students deserve nothing less.”

Findings from the GAO report include:

  • Only about half of the private schools participating in voucher programs provided special education or disability related information on their websites, creating a significant problem for families making a decision about where to send their children.
  • Private school voucher programs are inconsistently providing information on changes in key protections and rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when parents move a child with a disability from a public to a private school.
  • 83% of students who were enrolled in a program specifically designed for students with disabilities were enrolled in one that either provided no information or inaccurate information regarding the changes in IDEA rights.
  • One third of the 27 programs operating in school year 2016-17 had no academic testing requirements and officials in two of the programs interviewed indicated that some private schools were unfamiliar or unequipped to administer standardized tests.
  • Only one third of the programs require schools to publicly report test results.
  • Only four programs provided information on the graduation rates at participating schools.
  • Only an estimated 13% of all private schools participating in voucher programs provide student and school performance data on their websites.
  • Just seventeen of the programs required background checks on all employees or on employees with direct and unsupervised contact with children.

Read a summary of the GAO report by the National Coalition for Public Education:

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Read the full GAO report HERE:

Private School Choice: Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Parents Are Notified About Changes in Rights for Students with Disabilities

GAO found private school choice programs inconsistently provide information on changes in rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when parents move a child with a disability from public to private school. In 2001, the U.S.

Private school voucher enrollment up 8 percent, cost to taxpayers is $270 million

Enrollment in Wisconsin private school vouchers programs increased nearly 8 percent this year and cost state taxpayers $270 million, an increase of $25.5 million over last year, according to figures released Monday by the Department of Public Instruction.

Across the three programs – Milwaukee, Racine and statewide – a total of 36,249 students received a voucher to attend one of the 238 participating private schools. This is an increase of 2,684 students and 29 schools across the three programs compared to the prior school year.

Generally, the vouchers are paid for through a mixture of general purpose state revenue or money taken away from the public school district where the student resides.

There are 3,007 students in the Racine program, 4,540 students in the statewide program and 28,702 in Milwaukee.

For the 2017-18 school year, each participating private school may receive a voucher payment of $7,530 per FTE (full-time equivalent) in grades kindergarten through eight and $8,176 per FTE for students enrolled in grades nine through 12.

Read more from DPI:

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Review exposes faults in Walton family study calling for more private charters

WEAC partners with the Great Lakes Center to share and provide academically sound reviews of education-related studies. WEAC President Ron Martin sits on the Great Lakes Board of Directors and shares this academic review exposing a so-called study funded by the Walton Family Foundation calling for more privately run charter school funding in New York City.

Review exposes faults in Walton family study calling for more private charters

They wrongly assume charters, public schools provide same services, so should get same funding

Across America, privately run charter schools receive public school funding but in most cases fall behind public schools when it comes to student performance. Yet, in Wisconsin and beyond, some policymakers support funding for these charter schools as a way to expand school choice.

A recent study promoting privately run charter schools uses flawed methods and conclusions – and policymakers are strongly urged not to rely on the faulty claims when making public policy.

Read the Review

Charter School Funding: Inequity in New York City claims New York City charter schools receive 19 percent less funding than district schools. The authors used 2014 data to say there is a $4,888 per pupil funding gap between charter schools and district schools. The authors fail to acknowledge that New York is giving charter schools an increase in per-pupil funding in 2018.

The report also assumes charter schools and district schools provide similar services, so both should receive equal funding. The report fails to demonstrate how these schools are equal and excludes important school data such as enrollment numbers. For example, the report doesn’t consider that students who need special education services are more likely to enroll in district schools than charter schools and it costs more to provide those services to students.

Finally, the authors of the flawed report validate their findings with previous reports they have written themselves, making their approach biased. Even though there is already a large body of research, the authors do not cite any existing independent research or reports.

The review was conducted by the National Education Policy Center.

Find WEAC resources on voucher schools at www.weac.org/vouchers.