The Arkansas legislature opened a new stream of state money on virtual schools — a scheme in which state money equivalent to that given brick-and-mortar schools with labs, gyms, cafeterias, buses, teachers, etc. is given for home schooled students, largely to the benefit of private management companies that serve the virtual school industry. Where Arkansas virtual enrollment had been capped at 500, it can go to 3,000 next school year, though new students may come only from students who’ve been enrolled this year in conventional schools.
Such virtual schools appear to be a risky public investment, according to this new research from the National Education Policy Center. The report reviewed 311 full-time virtual schools with 200,000 students, the majority in “charters” operated by education management organizations such as K12 Inc., the management organization for the Arkansas Virtual Academy’s elementary and middle schools. Bottom line:
Compared with conventional public schools, researchers found that full-time virtual schools serve relatively few Black and Hispanic students [Arkansas’s “virtual” schoolers are 90 percent white], students who are poor, and special education students. In addition, on the common metrics of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), state performance rankings, and graduation rates, full-time virtual schools lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools. [In the report, the Arkansas virtual school in 2011, the most recent data available, didn’t meet the annual yearly progress standard}
To date, claims made in support of expanding virtual education are largely unsupported by high quality research evidence.
Among the recommendations:
Policymakers should slow or stop growth of virtual schools until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
Too late for Arkansas.