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NBC News has caught on to one of the biggest hoaxes of the corporate reform movement: the failure of virtual charter schools. About 200,000 students are currently enrolled in virtual charters. The attrition rates are high, but the industry spends taxpayer dollars constantly recruiting to increase their numbers. It is good to see the mainstream media catching on to what critics of virtual charters have known for a few years.
Some sharp eyed person in their news department learned about the CREDO study last fall that showed that students enrolled in these stay-at-home schools lose ground academically. In the case of math, they lose a full year of instruction for every year they are enrolled. In reading, they also lose ground, as much as 72 days.
The first set of analyses examines the academic growth of online charter students compared to the matched VCRs made up of students who attended brick-and-mortar district-run schools. These schools are typically referred to as traditional public schools (TPS). Compared to their VCRs in the TPS, online charter students have much weaker growth overall. Across all tested students in online charters, the typical academic gains for math are -0.25 standard deviations (equivalent to 180 fewer days of learning) and -0.10 (equivalent to 72 fewer days) for reading (see Figure 3). This means that compared to their twin attending TPS, the sizes of the coefficients leave little doubt attending an online charter school leads to lessened academic growth for the average student. (p. 23).
As the report from NBC shows, some “reformers” are growing disillusioned with virtual charters, but others keep making excuses and say that the bad guys in the industry are anomalies. This is an excuse we are getting used to.