When I spoke at NCTM, I talked about the common thread that unites mathematicians and historians: We believe that evidence matters. No matter how much we speculate, or theorize, or predict, what matters most is: Show me your work, where is the evidence.
There is no “reform” these days that has less evidence to support it than the expansion of cyber-charters. This is the (usually for-profit) business that enrolls students, provides them a computer and textbooks, then teaches them online while they sit at home in front of a computer. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have published exposes of the for-profit cyber-charter corporations.
I don’t doubt that there are some students who benefit by being able to take their courses at home. Some special-education students, some incarcerated youth, some others. But as a replacement for regular schools, the cyber-charters have a very poor record. Various academic studies, including those by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado have documented the poor results of the cybercharters. One of the best is the CREDO study of Pennsylvania cybercharters.
If we look at the studies and investigations, these findings stand out: students in cyber-charters get lower test scores, have lower graduation rates, and are likely to drop out and return to their local public school, leaving their state funding behind with the cyber-charter.
The bottom line on these “innovations” is that they produce worse education but generate large profits for their investors and owners.
The Michigan state legislature just voted to increase the number of cyber-charters in the state and the number of students these schools could enroll. No doubt, the for-profit corporations hired lobbyists to make their pitch.
If evidence matters, this would not be happening. If legislators and policymakers actually cared about education and our nation’s future, they would not be expanding a sector that has such a poor record.
Legislators and policymakers who ignore evidence should look in the mirror when they seek a reason for the state of education today.