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Expert: For-profit virtual schools "terrible" at educating our children

Apr 20, 2016

Credit Lars Plougmann / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In the search for a better way to educate our children, many have turned to technology. Virtual schools or blended schools that combine virtual and traditional face-to-face teaching are a national trend. However, according to a study from The National Education Policy Center, these virtual schools – most of which are run by private, for-profit companies, are doing a poor job of educating our kids.

The co-author of the 2016 Virtual Schools Report is Gary Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement and research at Western Michigan University. He joined Stateside to break down the numbers and was asked how the 57 full-time virtual schools and seven blended schools in Michigan performed.
 

Even the [virtual] schools here in Michigan, only three [of the 19 schools that had available data] met state expectations ... in the blended learning schools here in Michigan, none of them met expectations. They're not performing well.

“Just terrible,” said Miron. “Even the schools here in Michigan, only three [of the 19 schools that had available data] met state expectations … in the blended learning schools here in Michigan, none of them met expectations. They’re not performing well.”

The data is largely based on graduation rates and state school performance ratings for grades K-12.

A little more than half of brick and mortar schools across the country meet their respective state standards, which is not great, according to Miron. However, by comparison, only 27% of virtual schools are meeting those same standards.

A study by Stanford University has confirmed that this is a national trend, says Miron. They found that online charter schools are also not performing well across the country. Miron says the bottom line is that they are “not delivering a very good product in terms of student learning.”
 

What we really need and what we advocate for is that we [are asking] for a moratorium. We have to figure out what's not working and right now stop it. And it's not because we're against this, it's because we need to bring in more audience. More people. We need to bring in researchers, practitioners and others.

One of the problems that Miron found in the research was the student-to-teacher ratios. He said that he had heard anecdotal stories and media reports from around the country about schools that have as many as 150 to 200 students per teacher. However, as far as the data that was reported, the numbers show the classes are more than twice what a typical brick and mortar school standard is.  

Another problem area is graduation rates. Miron says many schools don’t have this data available, but of the ones that do, 30-40% of students graduate from virtual schools. This figure is half the national average.

According to Miron, he and his team are in favor of virtual schools and think they are the wave of the future, but he says it’s time to pump the brakes and reevaluate how these schools are being run before it continues to expand at the rate that it is.

“What we really need and what we advocate for is that we [are asking] for a moratorium,” said Miron. “We have to figure out what’s not working and right now stop it. And it’s not because we’re against this, it’s because we need to bring in more audience. More people. We need to bring in researchers, practitioners and others.

“That opportunity space … has been defined by these for-profit companies that have lobbied effectively in state legislatures [to] pass the laws that benefit them,” he added.   

Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the massive role that private education management organizations are playing in this new field and how lobbying has helped Michigan become second in the nation in the number of virtual schools despite the negative research about the system.