Saturday, January 07, 2012


Only 27% of for-profits operating virtual schools meet NCLB AYP

By Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press (MCT) from EdWeek |

January 6, 2012 :: Virtual charter schools are one of the fastest-growing segments of the charter school industry, but a report released today raises questions about how well they educate students.

The report by the National Education Policy Center says 27% of for-profit companies operating virtual schools met the adequate yearly progress standards of the federal No Child Left Behind law. That compares with 48% of traditional brick-and-mortar charter schools and about half of all public schools nationwide. Charter schools are considered public schools.

The report comes as the Michigan legislature considers a bill—part of sweeping legislation that would give parents more choices for their children's education—that would expand virtual charters in the state. State law enacted in 2010 allows only two to open and restricts enrollment to 400 in the first year. The bill—passed in the Senate late last year and now before the House—would remove those barriers.

Since the law was enacted, two virtual charters opened for the 2010-11 school year: Michigan Virtual Charter Academy and Michigan Connections Academy.

Standard Called Unfair

Today's report, titled "Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management," is a comprehensive look by Western Michigan University researchers at the performance of education management organizations that run charter schools nationwide.

Lead researcher Gary Miron, an education professor at WMU, said it's unclear why so many virtual schools are not meeting the academic goals.

"These are not highly impoverished schools. ... These schools should be more likely to meet adequate yearly progress," he said.

The report was criticized by one of the leading providers of online education, K12 Inc.

K12 operates a number of virtual charters across the nation, including Michigan Virtual Charter Academy. Of the 39 virtual schools that K12 operates that received an AYP rating in 2010, 13 met the standards.

Jeff Kwitowski, spokesman for the company, based in Herndon, Va., said using the adequate yearly progress standard to judge virtual schools is unfair.

"It's not a reliable measure. The secretary of education has said that the AYP measure under (No Child Left Behind) is broken and unfairly labels schools as failing."

Stringent Rules

Education Secretary Arne Duncan indeed has urged states to apply for waivers from some strict No Child rules that make it easy for a school to stumble, causing a number to be identified as failing.

In Michigan for instance, schools need 77%-88% of students to pass state math exams in order to meet the standards. But subgroups of students in those schools, including those living in poverty, minority groups, limited language students and special-education students, also must hit those goals. If one group doesn't make it, the whole school fails. Schools also can miss if they don't test at least 95% of students, and if they have attendance rates that fall below 90% and graduation rates that fall below 80%.

Kwitowski said that once students arrive in virtual schools, they show growth, and the longer they're enrolled, the better they perform.

He also noted that the National Education Policy Center is partially funded by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, which has been critical of some aspects of the charter school movement.

Similar Conclusions

Connections Academy, based in Baltimore, operates the other virtual charter in Michigan—Michigan Connections Academy. Nationwide, 27% of its virtual charters met the standards.

Neither of the Michigan virtual charters was open long enough to be in the study.

Miron acknowledged some of the concerns about using the adequate yearly progress measure. But he pointed to research in Pennsylvania that looked at individual student achievement data and came to similar conclusions about virtual schools.

And, he said, when there is such a wide gap between the percentage of virtual charters meeting the standard and other public schools, "that's pretty meaningful and significant.

Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Thirteenth Annual Report - 2010-2011

by Gary Miron, Jessica Urschel, Mayra A. Yat Aguilar, Breanna Dailey | | National Education Policy Center

January 6, 2012 :: While past annual Profiles reports have focused on either for-profit EMOs or nonprofit EMOs, this is the first annual Profiles report to cover both categories in a single report which allows for easier comparisons. The 2010-2011 school year marked another year of relatively slow growth in the for-profit education management industry and another year of steady growth in the nonprofit EMO industry. We believe our key finding from the past three years, that the for-profit school management sector has leveled off and that many for-profit companies are expanding into supplemental services, continued in the 2010-2011 school year. The nonprofit management sector’s growth remains steady, both in terms of new nonprofit EMOs and new managed schools. While the number of new schools under for-profit EMO management has slowed, enrollments in all managed schools continue to grow at a rapid pace.


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