Wed November 14, 2012

Dueling Reports at Odds with Online Schools’ Academic Results and Parent Preference

A pair of reports released this week send mixed signals on the role of Colorado’s full-time K-12 schools: online schools remain popular with parents, but still underperform academically.

About 16,000 students are enrolled in the state’s online public schools—that’s up from about 3,000 just eight years ago. While parents reported satisfaction with the experience, the Colorado Department of Education says changes are needed. Key findings include:

  • Online schools less successfully identified struggling readers in grades K-3.
  • A greater percentage of 9th graders new to online schools were entering non-proficient as compared to the state average for all 9th grade students.
  • Online students were more mobile than their brick & mortar counterparts and had higher dropout rates.
  • Many students who chose online schools were dissatisfied with their previous brick & mortar school and transferred out because of school culture and communication challenges.

Assistant Commissioner of Innovation and Choice Amy Anderson told CDE Board members Wednesday that online graduation rates are far from what they should be. In 2010-2011, the overall graduation rate for online schools was 22.5%. That’s compared to a statewide rate of 74%.

“There needs to be some more education I think around the realities of what an online school is and isn’t, and what is a right fit for students,” she said.

Last year KUNC and other media outlets raised questions about academic performance and high student turnover at some online schools.

Right now taxpayer funding does not follow Colorado students if they leave a school-something Anderson says also needs to change.

“Increasingly we’re finding that not just at online schools, but having a single count date for funding is not the right model that is working in a state like ours,” she said.

In addition to changing the funding model for both online and brick & mortar schools, Anderson outlined the following recommendations for online schools:

  • Online schools need to more accurately evaluate and diagnose their youngest students’ reading levels.
  • Given changing demographics, online schools need to modify the programs and services they offer in order to better meet the needs of the students they are enrolling.
  • Excessive movement between schools should be avoided.
  • Parents and students need to be better educated about the realities of attending an online school.