Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, delves into the charter lobby’s boasts about enrollment growth during the pandemic. Most of that increase, she found, was in virtual charter schools, the lowest performing of all charter schools. Her post appeared on Valerie Strauss’s blog at The Washington Post.

Burris writes:

Last October, this post examined state 2020-21 enrollment data indicating that large numbers of students had during the coronavirus pandemic moved to virtual charter schools, which are notorious for being the lowest performing schools in the charter sector. Researchers and advocacy organizations, including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, had previously been highly critical of virtual charters….

Charters operated by the for-profit online giant Stride K12 increased from 72,474 students in 2019-2020 to 110,767 in 2020-2021. Its strongest competitor, Pearson’s Connections Academy, experienced even stronger proportional growth, from 53,673 to 85,749.

Overall, the for-profit-run charter sector enrolled more than 50 percent of all students registered in virtual charters during both years…

In March 2022, the GAO issued a blistering report on virtual charter schools. The analysis showed that virtual charter students lagged behind their peers in brick-and-mortar charter schools, and even further behind students in brick-and-mortar public schools in publicly overseen districts.
When the GAO reviewed student proficiency in math and reading, they found “the national average math proficiency rate for virtual charter schools was 25 percentage points lower than the rate for brick-and-mortar traditional schools” and “the average reading proficiency rate for virtual charter schools was 9 percentage points lower than brick-and-mortar traditional schools.”

(Government Accountability Office analysis) (The Washington Post/Government Accountability Office)

While many virtual charter operators claim that the students attending their schools are often already lagging, the GAO made sure to control for several factors that could impact these proficiency rates, including past academic performance and student mobility. Even after controlling for those factors, the GAO still found virtual students’ scores statistically significantly behind brick-and-mortar public school students’. Not only that, fewer virtual students bothered to take state tests.