Thursday, January 10, 2019

GA: Cyber Schools Failing Here, Too

In what could be news only to someone who has not been paying any attention to cyberschooling in the US, a report from Georgia's Department of Audits and Accounts found that the state's cyber schools "underperformed."

Mind you, I'll argue that the state's College and Career Ready Performance Index is a lousy way to measure the performance of schools. But those are the rules that reformsters want to play by, so that's the yardstick we're stuck with. And by that yardstick, Georgia's virtual schools are failing.\

This is not a shock. The CREDO study in 2015 found that cyber charters have an "overwhelming negative impact," with student falling a full year behind their regular classroom peers. This matches the anecdotal information one can capture from classroom teachers to whom many cyber-students return. The cyber situation has been so bad that the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools issued a report calling for cybers to shape the hell up. In Pennsylvania, a magical cyber school playground, not a single one of the states cyber charters has ever scored a "passing" grade on the state's evaluation. And Indiana is just now coming to grips with a cyber charter sector that is both failing and corrupt.

So Georgia is just one more guest at the failing cyber charter party.

While the audit's findings are bad, they aren't exactly news. In July of 2016, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a piece looking at the Georgia Cyber Academy, a huge cyber with over 14,000 students:

Georgia Cyber Academy students log onto online classes from home, where they talk to and message with teachers and classmates and do assignments in a way that will “individualize their education, maximizing their ability to succeed,” according to an advertisement. But results show that most of them lag state performance on everything from standardized test scores to graduation rates.

Ah, that individualized, personalized education. GCA started out catering to homeschooling parents in 2007 before becoming the state's largest school. The story notes that while some students succeed at the online academy ("You have to be the kind of student that enjoys having more responsibility. You have to be good at managing your time," says one student.) The graduation rate was 66%, and the turnover rate was huge-- one quarter of the student body "leaves" each year. Class sizes are large. Attendance is a problem.

And this is one I hadn't heard before, but it makes sense-- students can be disruptive in cyber school, "doodling on a PowerPoint slide projected to the whole class instead of demonstrating how to solve the math problem on it." However one cyber teacher notes that a disruptive student can be muted, which is... good?

Georgia Connections Academy also promises individualized education at a tuition-free online school, but the audit found it lacking as well. Online reviews of GCA are, for the most part, pretty brutal.

Cyber charters tend to lean on certain excuses. Their students are more mobile. Their students are already behind. Their students are disproportionately problem children. These may be valid depictions of their student body, but if so-- well, that's the gig then, and if they want to be in the business, their "individualized" programs should be able to work with those students.

I've always said that there are students for whom cyber charters are a good solution, particularly students with some particular special needs. But for the broader student population, cyber charters are an experiment that has run too long. There's no longer any mystery about cybers-- they do a lousy job of educating students. It's long past time to pull the plug on this failed chapter of "innovation."

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