Full-time virtual charter school students show weaker academic growth compared to students of traditional public schools.

A new report calls for policy reform for full-time virtual charter schools to hold these schools accountable, and produce better results for their students. The report was released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN), and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

There are more than 135 full-time virtual charter schools serving 180,000 students in 23 states and the District of Columbia;  California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have the largest enrollments.

“The hallmark of the charter school movement is innovation,” said Marc Porter Magee, CEO and founder of 50CAN. “Online schooling should be supported only when it provides students with quality educational choice. Innovation and creative learning cannot come at the cost of student achievement.”

And the virtual students are underperforming. “In math, a full 88 percent of full-time virtual charter schools had significantly weaker growth than their comparison schools,” said the report. “Students experience 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading in comparison to traditional public school students.”

“Though some full-time virtual charter schools can effectively serve the unique needs of the students they enroll, overall, these schools are not producing great outcomes,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “A few states have opted to simply ban full-time virtual charter schools, but this solution risks limiting parental choice without giving otherwise high-performing virtual charter schools a chance to operate. This is why we need a better regulatory framework to govern full-time virtual charter schools.”

The report recommends the following state policy changes to be made to address these concerns:

  1. Authorization: States should only allow authorizers that have been granted statewide or regional chartering authority to oversee full-time virtual charter schools that enroll students from more than one district.
  2. Enrollment Criteria: States should maintain a core principle that full-time virtual charter schools must serve all students and study the creation of criteria for enrollment.
  3. Enrollment Levels: Authorizers should create desired enrollment levels, and allow schools to grow–or not–based on performance.
  4. Accountability for Performance: Schools should determine goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, attrition, finances, and operations.
  5. Funding Levels Based on Costs: Full-time virtual charter school applicants should propose and justify a price per student in their applications to the state.
  6. Performance-based Funding: States should fund full-time virtual charter schools based on some measures of performance.

“These provisions are tailored to the unique problems that have emerged among too many full-time virtual charter schools, which require states to enact significant policy changes,” said Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president, state advocacy and support of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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