Can Cyber Schools Be Saved?
Say what else you like about them, but the charter school industry has a pretty keen sense of where its own vulnerabilities lie, and at the moment, there is no underbelly softer than the virtual charter sector-- what the rest of us call cyber-charters. Multiple studies have made it clear-- cyber charters do not deliver much of anything except giant truckloads of money to the people who operate them.
So we have this newly-released report, "A CALL TO ACTION TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF FULL-TIME VIRTUAL CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS"-- yes, the call to action is so urgent that the report HAS TO YELL ITS NAME!!
The report was co-created by the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and 50CAN. So we know that the report is not about examining the value or viability of cyber-charters-- this is going to be about figuring out which exercise program might build a six-pack on that soft underbelly and thereby decrease the vulnerability of the charter industry.
This is a double-problem. First, we know that cybers are not making their numbers and instead are having an "overwhelming negative impact" on students, suggesting that students would literally be better offplaying video games for a year. On top of that, the majority of cybers are for-profit, so they're barely pretending that they're in this For The Children.
Now, I will say this in cybers' defense. First, their ineffectiveness is being measured with standardized test scores and bogus units like years or months of learning. Second, non-profit charters are just as capable of being money-grubbing profit engines as a for-profit charter-- they're just sneakier about it.
But let's take a look at the report and see what advice the charter industry family will offer to the black sheep of the family. Will it be tough love or a bug cuddle? The report is only sixteen pages long, but I have read it so that you don't have to. Here we go.
There are 135 cybers operating in twenty-three states plus DC, serving about 180,000 students. Last fall about 50.1 million students headed off to school, so that's about a third of 1% of all the students in the US.
Around 90,000 of those students are accounted for by the big three of cyber-schooling-- California, Ohio and Pennsylvania. One quarter of the cyber schools enroll about 80% of all cyber students. Put another way, about 80% of cyber students are enrolled in a school with over 1,000 students.
Cybers enroll far more white students and far fewer Hispanic students than public schools. They enroll more students in poverty, but fewer English Language Learners.
They are no more mobile than the general population of students, so the story about how cybers enroll students who are having a hard time because they've been moving all over the place-- that doesn't fly.
More Tough Love and Truth Talk
Well, this report isn't out to sugar-coat anything. As it moves into a section about results, the report lays out pretty bluntly some of the less-than-stellar outcomes of the cyber charters.
* Exceptionally weak academic results compared to bricks and mortar. They're going to go ahead CURMUDGUCATION: Can Cyber Schools Be Saved?: