Virtual Charter Schools Negatively Impact Students


A new paper co-authored by IAS faculty member Joseph Ferrare finds that for-profit virtual charter schools have a strong, negative impact on student learning in math and English/Language Arts. The study, which was recently published in the journal Educational Researcher, was a collaboration with colleagues from the University of Notre Dame and University of Kentucky.

In the study, Ferrare and colleagues examined the longitudinal impact of switching from a traditional public school into one of Indiana’s for-profit virtual charter schools among students in grades 3 - 8. They found that, on average, students who made this switch experienced substantial losses to their academic achievement on the magnitude of a half of a standard deviation in math and a third of a standard deviation in ELA. The magnitude of change in both subjects is considered extremely large by researchers who study education policy.

For-profit charter schools seek to make a profit by using public funds to operate schools at a lower cost than traditional public schools. Virtual charter schools often save costs by increasing student-to-teacher ratios. In fact, Ferrare and colleagues found that Indiana’s virtual charter schools averaged 100 students per teacher.

Given the recent shift to online learning across the country, many are wondering if the results from virtual charter schools are an indication of how our traditional public school students may be faring during the pandemic. In a recent blogpost featured at the Brookings Institution, however, Ferrare and colleagues urged caution in directly comparing for-profit virtual schools and the forms of online learning taking place in the context of a global pandemic. Nevertheless, their results do suggest that Education Secretary DeVos’ recent push to expand virtual charter schools’ operation of public schools during the pandemic is highly misguided. 

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