Virtual charter schools’ consistent and persistent negative impacts (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and I’ve picked a very relevant but depressing study this time…

As COVID pushes more schools online, the call for evidence of online learning is at a premium. Virtual charter schools are one recent innovation claiming to utilize technology for more individualized and flexible learning. However, a recent article published in Educational Researcher from Fitzpatrick and colleagues used a robust quasi-experimental approach to confirm prior negative effects of the virtual charter model as a whole.

Fitzpatrick and colleagues looked at state-wide end-of-year test results from Indiana in grades 3-8, including data from students in four virtual charter schools and 67 in-person (“bricks and mortar”) charter schools. The researchers set up a comparison group by matching students who transferred into a virtual charter school to a similar student in a traditional public school. They also looked at how virtual students compared to students who transferred into the more typical, in-person charter school.
Results show that virtual charters schools negatively affected student achievement. This effect grew over time (ES = -0.41, – 0.50 SD in Math and ES= -0.29, -0.33 SD in ELA), and this effect was consistent across all virtual charter schools. This suggests that virtual charters produce worse outcomes for students than traditional public schools or in-person charter schools (which performed equally as well as traditional public schools). Thus, virtual charters may not be a good investment for public education funding. Also of note from these findings, part of this virtual charter effect can be explained by teachers’ lower experience and larger class sizes in virtual charters. (The average class size being 101 students in virtual charters, compared to 23 students in non-virtual charters and other public schools.)

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