- The National Education Policy Center has released its "Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review," showing virtual schools are expanding despite a plethora of problems including poor student graduation rates and performance.
- According to the report, enrollment in full-time virtual schools grew by 8%, or 19,000 students, between the 2012-13 and the 2013-14 school years, and the number of full-time virtual schools in the U.S. grew by 32% to 109 schools.
- The rate for students graduating from high school within four years for full-time virtual schools was just 40.6%, as compared to the national average of around 80%.
Though the new report points out disparities in teacher-to-student ratios — with traditional schools reported as having around 16 students per teacher, blended schools with 32.4 per teacher and virtual schools with 35 per teacher — that alone certainly isn't why the schools have been performing so poorly. Without rigorous accountability standards in place, the door is left open for for-profit ventures to cash in without any negative repercussions. As with any industry, regulation can provide a framework for consumer protection. It's also worth considering that some students simply aren't prepared for the greater level of self-motivation required to succeed in such programs, though that's another area regulation could potentially address.
The New York Times recently examined The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an Ohio-based for-profit virtual charter, calling such schools "the new dropout factories." That school in particular had a graduation rate of around 39%. "Online charter schools [in Ohio] are educating one out of every 26 high school students, yet their graduation rates are worse than those in the state’s most impoverished cities, including Cleveland and Youngstown," the Times reported. Ohio is also known for a lack of charter school accountability that has resulted in the possibility of a $71 million federal charter grant being rescinded by the government. Previously, the state's auditor declined to investigate why Ohio's education officials omitted student performance data from charter evaluations and the Ohio director of quality school choice resigned after admitting to scrubbing "F" grades from books on purpose.
While the federal government and the U.S. Department of Education have taken aim at closing traditional brick and mortar drop-out factories, no sweeping national action has been taken to clean up the virtual school marketplace. In California, however, Attorney General Kamala Harris has taken aim at the space, as shown in a subpoena delivered to K12 Inc. and later revealed in an SEC filing.