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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Full-time cyber schools expanding despite no evidence of their effectiveness, new report finds

from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Pratice

Study finds more questions than answers about the benefit of full-time virtual schools

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Oct. 25, 2011) — Full-time virtual schools are expanding despite no high-quality evidence that they are effective, according to a new report released today.

Cash-strapped states and school districts are using online education — including full-time virtual schools with no face-to-face contact between students and teachers — as a lower-cost alternative to traditional public schools. In states such as Florida, virtual schools are used as a loophole in laws that limit the size of classes.

According to the report, authored by University of Colorado education professors Gene V Glass and Kevin G. Welner, full-time "cyber schools" are now operating in 27 states. In at least one case in Arizona, a private firm outsourced essay grading to low-paid workers in India.

"Private operators are gaining access to large streams of public revenue to run cyber schools," Glass said. "But school districts are not getting full information on the actual costs of these programs, so it's not clear if taxpayer money is being used effectively — or properly."

Cyber schools are subject to only minimal government oversight, according to the report.

"We have to make sure that cyber schools don't become just a cheap way of providing second-rate service to disadvantaged schools and students," Glass said.

"No matter where they live or in what form they receive instruction, all students deserve quality teachers, supported by a rigorous program of accreditation and accountability," Welner said.

As virtual schools continue to grow, Glass and Welner offered several recommendations for state legislators and other policymakers. The recommendations are contained in model legislation also released today by University of Kentucky educator professor and attorney Justin Bathon. These recommendations include:

Financial audits of cyber schools to determine their actual per-student expenses, so school districts can determine appropriate reimbursement.
Authentication of student work: An online instructor, whether located in the U.S. or abroad, has no way to determine whether work submitted via computer was performed by the student enrolled in the class. Trusted organizations should be engaged to administer in-person exams, as is currently the practice at several virtual schools.

Accreditation: To avoid abuses that have been found in other proprietary schools – such as truck driving and cosmetology academies – traditional high school accrediting agencies and state and federal departments of education should work together to develop a rigorous approach to accreditation of both part- and full-time cyber schools.

The full report, "Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation" and the model legislation were produced by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

To read Glass and Welner's full report and to view Bathon's model legislation, go to:

Both are also available on the NEPC website:

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