To the Editor:
Over the last six months, Education Week news and Commentary have cited a national study of online charter schools conducted by CREDO, Mathematica, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education, raising questions about online charter schools. (See, for example, “Walton Family Foundation: Rethink Virtual Charters” and “Cyber Charters Have ‘Overwhelming Negative Impact,’ CREDO Study Finds.”)
Though we have made public our concerns about the reliability of the study’s “virtual twin” methodology used to measure student performance, we believe the study itself is important and provides a starting point for future research. It also confirms much of what leaders of online schools have known for years: Students who transfer to these schools are more likely to be low-income, have lower test scores prior to enrolling, and struggle with engagement.
Certainly, online schools and digital-learning providers must take the lead to improve outcomes. That work is being done every day by the dedicated teachers and educators providing instruction and support to students in these schools. Online schools are an essential option for many families. They are often the only school choice available. A single study should not be used to draw sweeping conclusions or justify misguided public policies—most notably, proposals to screen away students. This stifles parent choice and restricts equal access to these public schools.
Measuring online schools through accountability systems designed for traditional schools creates an apples-to-oranges exercise. These systems are often misaligned and do not effectively measure mastery or individual student progress over multiple points in time. States should move to competency-based assessments and student-centered accountability frameworks, which should emphasize academic gains over static proficiency; hold schools more accountable for students who are enrolled longer; and eliminate the perverse incentives that unfairly punish schools of choice for serving transfer students who enter below proficiency or behind in credits.
Yes, student results in online schools must improve, but so, too, should the metrics and accountability systems.
Senior Vice President of Education Policy and External Affairs
Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Communications
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2016 edition of Education Week as Using Traditional School Methods to Assess Online Charters Is ‘Apples to Oranges’ Exercise