This week you may have caught this report that ran in the Columbus Dispatch and the Washington Post and the Detroit Free Press, to name a few. Turns out there's a study that shows that online charter school students learn far less than their bricks-and-mortar counterparts.
Check out this mind-boggling statistic:
Nationally, online charter students received on average 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days in reading during a typical 180-day school year. In Ohio, with the largest e-school enrollment, students lost 144 days of math and 79 days of reading.
180 days fewer than 180 would seem to equal, well, zero. So on average, the study suggests that studying math in cyber-school is no more productive than 180 days of watching Dr. Phil. And 180 days is an average-- which means that some cyberschools actually move students backwards during the year, I guess. ("Students, in today's lesson, we'll be forcing you to forget everything you know about the quadratic equation.")
These are stunning results, even worse than some of the mean things that I have had to say about cyber charters (and I've said some mean things about the bloodsucking cyberschool vampires that have been allowed to lay waste to much of Pennsylvania's educational landscape).
Who would go after cyber charters with such verve?
Well, let's check the pull quotes. From the Washington Post:
Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said her group was “disheartened to learn of the large-scale underperformance of full-time virtual charter public schools. While we know that this model works for some students, the CREDO report shows that too many students aren’t succeeding in a full-time online environment.”
From the Detroit Free Press:
Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said in a statement that the results are "deeply troubling."
"There is a place for virtual schooling in our nation, but there is no place for results like these," he said.
And from the Dispatch
“In Ohio and across the United States, students attending virtual charter schools simply are not learning enough,” said Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which sponsors 11 traditional charter schools.
“Proponents of school choice are increasingly hard-pressed to defend virtual charters when their academic gains fall so far below the traditional schools against which they are compared.”
Yes, three top charter-loving outfits, all lined up to stick it to the cybers based on the results of this study conducted by-- wait for it-- CREDO.
Yup. If you didn't read these reports carefully enough, you might have missed that the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford. This drubbing of cyber charters comes from the choice-favoring, charter-leaning folks at CREDO, and then has been enthusiastically endorsed by a brace of charter advocates.
What's going on? A new epiphany about chartering? A willingness to confront hard truths? Opposite day?
I don't know. But I can guess. Let's see.... besides advocating for choice and charters, what else does Fordham do in Ohio? That's right--they run bricks and mortar charters.
One aspect of the zero-sum charter-choice landscape has always been predictable. At some point, the charter operators will have to fight each other for those sweet slices of that finite school funding pie. The lofty picture of "competition" has always been neat and bloodless, noble charter operators simply pursuing excellence in hopes that if they built a better math trap, the students would beat a path to their school.
But of course that's not always how competition works. Some times you get out the long knives and start trying to carve up competitors. Because until we fix the stupid, stupid funding system we've got now, more for me must always mean less for you.
So, yes-- charter operators will call for reforms (like say, a New York law that only schools with "success" in the name can be authorized, or an Ohio law that allows payments only for schools that have car manufacturers' names and pork products in their organization title). It was only a matter of time before they started promoting research that proved that some charters are Bad. So they shake their heads, cluck their tongues, and express sadness that Those Terrible Charters are taking attention away from Our Awesome Charters (accepting applications for next year's class soon).
Do I think cyber charters are often dreadful? Sure. But call me a little cynical if I see a bit of self-serving cynicism in the charter community's announcement that they are shocked-- shocked!!-- at some of the awful shenanigans going on. But only Over There.