Hot Topic – Virtual Schools

Virtual Schools

Virtual schools are a growing part of the charter school sector, but credible research casts doubt on their effectiveness. Charter school authorizers have a unique role in ensuring student and public interests are protected; to that end, we must better understand the scope of virtual schools and their impact in current settings.

New Report Recommends Reforms to Address Significant Underperformance by Full-Time Virtual Charter Public Schools

In a joint paper released June 2016, NACSA, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) provide specific policy recommendations to help states better hold full-time virtual charter schools accountable for student results. While the report notes that some students do well in a full-time virtual charter school environment, too many of these schools are not providing a quality educational program to the vast majority of their students, while enrolling too many who are simply not a good fit for attending a fully online school.

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Insights from the 2014 Survey of Charter School Authorizers

NACSA collects data from authorizers of all portfolio sizes annually, but focuses and reports on “large” authorizers: those authorizers that oversee 10 or more schools. In 2013-2014, there were 103 large authorizers across the country. While they make up only about 10% of all authorizers, they account for oversight of 71% of all charter schools.

The 2014 authorizer survey included several questions regarding the authorization of virtual charter schools (described as “100% virtual/online schools”).

Just over 42% of large authorizers reported overseeing at least one virtual charter school during the 2013-2014 school year, a percentage slightly higher than reported by large authorizers in the previous year.

Applications for virtual charter schools represent only 1% of all applications received by large authorizers in our sample in 2013-2014.

Most large authorizers with virtual schools in their charter school portfolios (55%) reported that they oversaw just one virtual school in 2013-2014.

Five large authorizers have more than 50% of their enrollment in virtual schools, totaling more than 47,000 children.

A significant percentage of large authorizers have a very large number of students in virtual schools. About 11% of large authorizers have more than 15,000 students in virtual schools in their portfolio:

PowerPoint Presentation

Among large authorizers with at least one virtual school, a big chunk have extremely large percentages of students in virtual schools. About 26% of large authorizers have half or more of all students in their entire portfolio in virtual schools:

 PowerPoint Presentation


NACSA Archives on Virtual Schools

Research from the Field

View CRPE Presentation on Research   View Mathematica Presentation on Research  View Virtual Schools: Assessing Progress and Accountability Report, 2014

NACSA Tools and Policy Guides

View Online and Blended Charter Schools  View a Primer on Virtual Charters, 2006   View Authorizing Virtual Charters, 2006 View School Quality In The Cloud, 2011  View Key Questions for Reviewing Virtual Charter School Proposals

News and Web

Buzz on Recent Research NACSA Quoted on Virtual Schools
Washington Post EdWeek
BBC News The Seventy Four
International Business Times Detroit Free Press
BuzzFeed Columbus Dispatch

Expertise on Virtual Schools at NACSA

Karega Rausch

Vice President of Research and Evaluation

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