Despite serious problems and a lack of research support, virtual schools continue to spread

From the National Education Policy Center

Lawmakers throughout the nation continue to support the spread of virtual schools despite the fact that research reveals overwhelming evidence of poor performance, according to a new review by the National Education Policy Center.

Given the evidence, the review recommends that policymakers:

  • Slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
  • Implement measures that require virtual and blended schools to reduce their student-to-teacher ratios.
  • Enforce sanctions for virtual and blended schools that perform inadequately.
  • Sponsor research on virtual and blended learning “programs” and classroom innovations within traditional public schools and districts.

The three-part research brief titled Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, examines the claim that online curriculum can be tailored to individual students more effectively than curriculum in traditional classrooms.

Proponents contend that this potential for individualization allows virtual schools to promote greater student achievement than can be realized in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. NEPC researchers found, however, that the research evidence does not support this claim. Yet the lack of research support has done little to dampen policymakers’ enthusiasm, perhaps because virtual schools are marketed as promising lower operating costs, primarily via cutbacks in instructional personnel and facilities.

Section I of the brief, Full-Time Virtual and Blended Schools: Enrollment, Student Characteristics, and Performance, provides straightforward analyses of the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools. The data reveal that full-time virtual and blended learning schools continue to perform poorly.

Section II, What Virtual and Blended Education Research Reveals, points to a serious shortfall in the scholarly research. It reviews the relevant available studies related to virtual school practices and finds that much of this is atheoretical, methodologically questionable, contextually limited, and overgeneralized. As a result, the available research is of little value in guiding policy.

Section III, Key Policy Issues in Virtual Schools: Finance and Governance, Instructional Quality, and Teacher Quality, provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft policy regarding virtual schools. As in past years, bills to increase oversight of virtual schools continue to be introduced. Some legislative actions have been prompted by state audits and legal challenges, as exemplified by recent virtual school controversies in California and Ohio. As such, the bills have been aimed at addressing accountability and governance structures, as well as curbing the operation of for-profit virtual schools. However, there is little evidence that legislative actions are being informed by available research on the performance of virtual schools.

The authors recommend that policymakers hit the pause button on further virtual school expansion until we understand how to address the poor performance of these schools.

Find Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, edited by Alex Molnar, at:
http://www.greatlakescenter.org

This research brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit it at: http://nepc.colorado.edu.

Racine educators, students, parents, community members demand a budget that supports students and educators

Photo by BG Pfeifer.

Dozens of Racine educators, students, parents and community members packed a school board meeting Monday night to demand a budget that supports all students and gives educators the tools they need to help students succeed.

“I realize public school districts across this state are in crisis mode,” said Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz. “But I strongly believe in the collective power of educators and community to fight back for what’s best for kids.”

Cruz asked administrators and school board members to join all educators at the Capitol “to demand legislators stop playing politics with our kids.”

“It’s imperative we come together to debunk the myth that our kids are failing.” she said. “The state is failing our kids.

“We must stand together to demand that our public schools – the only schools with the commitment, capacity, and legal obligation to serve every child who walks through our doors – be fully funded; that the voucher program be ended; that something be done about the massive teacher exodus in Wisconsin; and to put an end to punitive legislation targeting urban districts.”

Cruz presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures from educators, parents, and community members calling on the school board to approve a budget that:

  • Keeps cuts away from the classroom.
  • Provides planning and prep time educators need to meet the needs of all students, rather than filling that time with meaningless meetings.
  • Provides a sensible and competitive salary schedule and benefits package that attracts and retains the best and brightest public education workers.

“Our ask is simple,” she said: “Keep what’s best for kids at the center of all local budget decisions. Stop cuts in programming and supports that most directly impact student learning. Chop from the top.”

Find out more on the REA-REAA Unity Facebook page:

Read more from the Racine Journal Times:

Racine teachers’ union protests proposed cuts

RACINE – A chorus of teachers who repeatedly chanted “chop from the top” filled the Racine Unified School Board meeting room on Monday night. Attendees of the meeting spilled into the hallway outside the meeting room as members of the Racine Unified teachers’ union, Racine Educators United, protested proposed cuts in next year’s budget that would affect teachers and students.

State Superintendent Stanford Taylor asks districts to review graduation policies as they relate to American Indian traditions

As the school year winds down and graduation ceremonies take place, State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor has sent a reminder to Wisconsin school superintendents to review their policies regarding American Indian ceremonial traditions.

“Throughout Wisconsin, many school districts already recognize the importance of American Indian students wearing eagle feathers, traditional regalia, and other items,” Stanford Taylor wrote, noting that many school districts addressed their policies in 2017 after the Department of Public Instruction asked them to connect with sovereign tribal nations and discuss with tribal leaders ways to recognize and honor tribal traditions and practices. In the past, some school districts have prohibited students from wearing items of religious and cultural significance at graduation ceremonies and school-sponsored events.

“I hope you will take this opportunity to deepen the relationship with the tribal nations and recognize the cultural and religious significance these specific items have to the sovereign tribal nations and their members,” she wrote.

Stanford Taylor asked school districts specifically to look at their policies, consider the religious aspects of eagle feathers and other items for American Indian students and the legal protections given for religious practices. For instance:

  • Wisconsin Statutes s. 115.28(31) requires rules to provide for the reasonable accommodation of a pupil’s sincerely held religious beliefs with regard to all examinations and other academic requirements. Further, the related administrative rule, Wis. Admin. Code. Chapter PI 41, requires all school boards to develop policies providing for such accommodations.
  • Wisconsin Statutes s. 118.13 provides that no person may be denied participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be discriminated against in any curricular, extracurricular, pupil services, recreational or other program or activity because of the sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental emotional or learning disability. Under the related administrative rule, Wis. Admin. Code Chapter PI 9, school boards are required to develop policies prohibiting discrimination against pupils.

“Thank you for your continued efforts to make school a welcoming, safe and engaging place for all our students each and every day,” she wrote.

Two Education Support Professionals win WEAC ESP scholarships

Two exceptional Education Support Professionals have been awarded 2019 WEAC ESP scholarships.

The winners of the $1,000 scholarships are Terri Taylor, who works in Milwaukee Public Schools and is a member of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Milwaukee Educational Assistants Association, and Taneka Golden, who works in Racine public schools and is a member of Racine Educators United.

Taylor plans to use her scholarship money to help defray costs for a course she is taking at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee titled The Exceptional Individual. This course, she said, will help with understanding special needs students in today’s school.

“I will be able to explore the legislation, collaboration, transition, standards, learning disabilities/behaviors disorders,” she wrote. “Completing this course will help with completing the school social work certificate requirement. I currently work with Milwaukee Public Schools as a parent coordinator and just graduated from graduate school with my Masters of Science in Social Work. This course will help in my career becoming a school social worker in Milwaukee Public Schools and to also work with students with special needs in the schools.”

Golden, a paraprofessional, said she will use her scholarship money to purse an Elementary Education Degree.

“I decided to pursue this degree a few months ago when I was able to work a summer internship through the Center for Urban Teaching as a Fourth Grade Teacher,” she wrote. “I believe that obtaining this scholarship will allow me to not only relieve some of the financial stress on my end but also continue to support my children. This scholarship will help with the purchase of books and other supplies that are needed to complete my degree.”

The WEAC ESP Scholarship is awarded for study at either a two-year or four-year accredited institution of higher education or for job specific professional programs, courses or certifications.

Recipients must be an employed, active ESP member of WEAC who is interested in pursuing classes that will enhance their skills or further their career in the education field. Find out more about the scholarship.

The scholarship is part of a long-term program to elevate the work of education support professionals in Wisconsin Public Schools. WEAC received a grant from the National Education Association’s Great Public Schools (GPS) Fund to build respect and recognition of Education Support Professionals. GPS Fund grants, established by NEA members in 2013, are designed to help enhance the education profession and promote student success.