The NEPC's "Understanding and Improving Full-Time Virtual Schools" could have been titled, "Everything You Want to Know About Cyber-Schools, but Were Afraid to Ask." Its author, Gary Miron, lets the facts speak for themselves. Even without much commentary, those facts tell a story that is truly frightening -- and raise some key questions for reformers and the Obama administration.
Much of the appeal of K12 is that they expend about $3,000 less than the $10,000 per student that the United States invests in education. It is to the shame of this country that we only spend $1,021 per student on support services. K12 spends $230 per student. K12 spends at least $500 per student less on special education, and it also spends $1,250 less per pupil on benefits for staff. K12 has fewer special education students, fewer lower income students and students of color, and far fewer English Language Learners. Miron estimates that K12 has a $4,000 to $5,000 per student cost advantage over regular schools, but its student performance outcomes are deeply troubling. While 52% of American schools met AYP, the percentage of K12 schools meeting NCLB's metric is only 28%. K12's on-time graduation rate is 49%, in comparison to the nation's rate of 79%.
Miron is too polite to ask about the silence of the accountability hawks. Data-driven "reformers" continually preach about instruction, instruction, instruction, so why do they ignore the obvious instructional problems in virtual schools? To his credit, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has challenged online schooling in higher education. When will he look into schools like K12, and the even more worrisome can of worms which is virtual schools operated by charter school chains?- JT(@drjohnthompson)