Ouchies! Stock Photo Lad is clearly not prepared to sing the joyous praises of his virtual school, and that bored and contemptuous face pretty much sets the tone for the report (presumably he is a cyber charter student, and not someone who has just tried to read the report).
We should note right up front that Fordham has skin in this game; they have several bricks-and-mortar charters of their own in Ohio. And the bricks-and-mortar wing of the charter school industry has been getting pretty rough with their cyber-siblings lately. So, let's see how they made out this time.
The report strikes a pair of notes over and over again-- e-learning can be awesome, but cyber schools, not so much. Right off the bat, in the foreward, we get this:
To be certain, the Internet has opened a new frontier of possibilities for America’s K–12 students. Much less sure, however, is whether these new opportunities are actually improving achievement, especially for the types of students who enroll in virtual schools.
Dr. Ahn used Ohio education department data from 2009-2013 covering K-12 students. By breaking down the data, the following findings emerged.
* Cyber-schools are largely centered around the urban areas, where (the report notes) there are plenty of perfectly good bricks-and-mortar charters. That's an interesting data point; here in PA, cybers take advantage of areas where there is little brick-and-mortar competition, as well as hammering the urban areas.
* Cybers have far more poor and low-achieving students. Cyber students are more likely to have repeated or failed courses before their cyber-enrollment. Also, fewer gifted students are in cyber-school.
* When students sign up for cyber-math, it is most frequently remedial or low-level math.
* Even when you perform some fancy statistical corrections, cyber students do worse than bricks-and-mortar students. That's in keeping with the CREDO study that showed that cyber school worked about as well as taking a year-long nap. Ahn would also like you to know that BaM charter students did better than public school students. By a little bit. If your only measure is a single standardized test.
None of the findings of this
Dr. Ahn offers four recommendations to the state of Ohio.
First, e-schools are aimed directly at and often used by "challenging student populations." Ahn suggests that cybers really ought to develop a plan for addressing the needs of the students they are most likely to have.
Second, if e-schools can't figure out how to do that, then maybe they should be used more "strategically," to serve the students they are better suited for. In other words, if they can't serve a portion of the market, then maybe those customers should be sent to a different sort of vendor (cough cough bricks and mortar charters cough cough).
Third, move to a more blended model in which cyber students are only online part time and sit in a classroom the rest.
Fourth, "harness the potential of e-schools to better understand how students learn online." So, I don't know-- use cyber charter students as guinea pigs?
Modern charters are busy not just throwing cyber charters under the bus, but are loading up the bus with big slabs of concrete and driving it back and forth over the cyber bodies. There are two main reasons.
First of all, the cybers are making all charters look bad. As this report notes, the cyber results are put in with all charter results and therefor make the charter sector look bad. "We have got to shut them down," say the meat world charters, "because this is why we can't have nice things."
Second, while charters mostly compete with public schools for students, cybers represent a pre-selected group of charter customers who aren't shopping in bricks-and-mortar land, but are also not happy with public schools. Cyber students are perfect target customers that B&M charters can poach without worrying about violating any charter school bro code.
So this report is kind of like having Ford do a report on the safety of Yugos. But there are charts and graphs and conclusions that sort of match what we already know. There are some charts, many words and pages here, many drawn up by the Department of Redundancy Department, but the bottom line is clear enough. Ohio cyber schools aren't doing a very good job, and some folks you should try bricks and mortar charters instead.