Should Michigan parents consider online charter schools?

Oct 23, 2013

To parents who are seeking the best education for their children, it's a whole new world out there and it can be a confusing one. No longer is it an automatic choice to send your child to the public school in your neighborhood.

Today, there are charter schools. There are online classes. And, the subject of our discussion today: online K-12 charter schools.

Gary Miron is a professor of education at Western Michigan University. He recently co-authored a major piece, along with Jessica L. Urschel, for the National Education Policy Center. Its title: Understanding and Improving Full-time Virtual Schools---A Study of Student Characteristics, School Finance, and School Performance in Schools Operated by K12 Inc.

"This is a pretty exciting future for education, the virtual school environment. And we’re very excited about that, but we’re very concerned about how this is taking shape,” said Miron. “This opportunity space is largely being designed by these for-profit companies, and we believe the performance could be better.”

Miron’s study found that only 29% of online charter schools are meeting state standards, they are behind in reading and math, and less than one third of the students are graduating on time.

“Across the board we haven’t seen any promising evidence, and yet we do have hope,” Miron said. “We think that this is a pretty exciting opportunity, an area for growth, but thus far the results are dismal.”

Miron believes that the for-profit companies running the schools are a part of the problem. The monetary incentives are based on how many students they serve, so they recruit anyone they can. Many of the students do not have the skills or resources to succeed in online classes.

Another part of the problem is that many virtual schools are not spending enough money on instruction. More attention is paid to advertising and recruitment than instructors.

“Looking at outcomes, we need to stop growing the full-time virtual schools. We need to figure out why they’re not performing well, we need to look at new accountability measures for them, and we need new funding mechanisms,” said Miron. “I think if the funding mechanisms were changed, the incentives would change and they would change their behavior.”

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full interview above.