UPDATED: In a statement issued this week, Idaho Virtual Academy's head of school, Kelly Edginton, attributed the graduation rate discrepancies to Idaho's recent adoption of the federal government's four-year cohort graduation calculation. That metric, she explained, was designed for traditional schools, failing to account for unique scenarios that exist among virtual schools — which tend to serve a high percentage of at-risk students and have a higher level of mobility.
- Just 20% of students attending virtual charter schools in Idaho graduate on time, as opposed to 91% attending brick and mortar charters and 88% in traditional public schools.
- The virtual charters are authorized by the state, which also pays for them to be available as school choice options for Idaho families.
- Of the charters, Idaho Virtual Academy is the largest, with a student body totaling 2,237.
Idaho’s state government might want to look to California as it proceeds. There, Attorney General Kamala Harris is currently overseeing a widespread investigation into the practices and performance of virtual charter schools.
Yet California’s focus is on potential wrongdoing and protecting the state’s students from predatory businesses, while Idaho is reportedly seeking ways to help its charters address the severe performance issues.
Maine, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are also currently wrestling with issues related to online charters. In Maine, one of the state’s two online charters has seen a 25% drop in student enrollment since the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year. That’s in addition to a high number of truant students.
Part of the reason for poor performance in virtual schools is likely that some studnets don't fully understand what it's like to attend an online school — and that reasoning can also apply to something like Idaho’s graduation rate. Such schools require a much greater level of focus and self-direction. Furthermore, some students learn better with the face-to-face presence of a teacher. Experts have suggested solutions such as a "try-out week" for potential students to explore virtual options before officially enrolling.