As the trend grows more and more for on-line education of public school students, some cautionary notes come from a study conducted by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) based at Stanford University.
The 114-page study, conducted over a period of five years, shows that students who take classes only on-line from charter schools may show no academic growth in math or reading at all. In other words, as one researcher put it in an interview with the Washington Post, it was as if the students didn’t even go to school at all.
“There’s still some possibility that there’s positive learning, but it’s so statistically significantly different from the average, it is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year,” said Margaret E. Raymond, project director at CREDO.
That was a striking result that confirms the importance, at this point of “brick and mortar schools” and some of the traditional values of education.
The study reviewed information from 17 states that produced results from the on-line educational experience between 2008 and 2013. Utah was one of those states. As of the last year of the study the state had 967 students enrolled in on-line charter schools.
The main results of the study showed that:
- On-line charter school students showed weaker growth in both math and reading as compared to all other school populations.
- Students in on-line charter school enrollment patterns change schools much more often than those in other school populations. The time spent in on-line charter schools is also less, an average of only two years.
- Schools in Wisconsin and Georgia showed strength in reading, which shows growth through that type of educational system is possible. However the outcomes nationwide did not reveal that as a general rule.
- On-line charter schools sometimes leave much of the responsibility for student learning on the parents of the student. The correlations drawn by the study show that student growth is actually weaker when this is done within these parameters.
- States vary a great deal from one to another on how they regulate on-line charter schools educational success. Varying policies that were examined showed different things.
- The study was not about charter schools, but about on-line charter schools. It was pointed out very strongly that the on-line component was much more important in the results of the study than the type of school that is being looked at.
The study said the implications are quite striking.
- Current on-line charter programs might be a fit for some students, but the study shows it doesn’t serve the typical student very well.
` •Most states do not have sufficient policies for oversight. These schools are based on the precept that “Flexibility for Accountability” will work. But states have not been holding on-line charter schools programs feet to the fire when it comes to being accountable for what they are providing students in terms of educational quality.
- On-line charter schools can grow (and are growing) rapidly. They have no restraints to growth that a typical public school would have such as geography, building expansion and the pool of students from which to draw. States need to examine programs very closely before they allow such programs to expand.
The study did not look at on-line school options from regular public schools or other sources.
Carbon School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen pointed out that there has been some concerns about any type of pure on-line instruction.
“Taking an on-line class takes some real discipline,” he said. “It takes a lot of maturity to get everything done and do what you are supposed to when enrolling in that type of learning.”
He suggested that while that study was done only with on-line charter schools that problems with on-line learning may well extend to other kinds of schools too. That’s why Carbon District administrators suggest that students use a combination of learning platform, which he termed blended learning.
“Blended learning is something that can work out well for students,” he said.
A program called K-12 for both elementary and secondary students exist that allows students to take classes in many kinds of subjects, particularly those in which a student wants to expand their horizons.
“Those can be taken under the direction of the district and any student can come to the Carbon High School library and take those courses,” he said.
Carlsen said he and other administrators are concerned about the learning of students who may not be using a blended type of format. He said that the district has sent letters to those that home school their children that the program is available to everyone.