$60 million. That’s right, Oregon is spending at least $60 million a year on virtual public charter schools, many of which are failing to educate their students.
How appalling does it have to get before failing public virtual charter schools are shut down? How long will it take before other struggling public virtual charter schools are fixed?
When the state is struggling to adequately fund its public schools, diverting scarce resources to virtual public charter schools that don’t work is unforgivable. It’s time to do something beyond studying or ignoring the problem.
The latest to raise the alarm is Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.
“The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has not focused on improving education for at-risk students in alternative and online schools and programs, though these programs account for nearly half the state’s high school dropouts,” said an audit released in December 2017 by Richardson’s office.
The audit noted:
- ODE should develop a more meaningful accountability system for…online education. More state involvement, along with consistent district oversight, could help online schools improve results with academically at- risk students.
- ODE should establish and monitor standards for crucial practices, such as annual district evaluations of these schools and programs.
- Oregon doesn’t require state approval for new public online charter schools, regularly evaluate online school performance in depth, increase oversight of poor-performing online schools or require online schools to meet performance standards to grow.
- Oregon doesn’t review online curriculum for compliance with state standards.
- School Districts differ significantly in the quality of their online school oversight. One district overseeing a for-profit online public online charter school said it is “pretty much hands off” regarding the school.
- The lax attendance standard at online schools raises the risk that an online school could receive taxpayer dollars even if students spend little time engaged with the school and make no progress academically.
- The level of district monitoring of for-profit public online charter schools varies significantly.
The audit recommended that ODE work with the Legislature to:
- Require upgrades to accountability and oversight for online education, as some other states have done. Possibilities include
- Upgrading public performance reporting for virtual schools and programs.
- Requiring publicly available annual improvement plans.
- Requiring ODE review of plans for low-performing virtual schools and programs.
- Establishing performance requirements that statewide and regional virtual schools must meet before they can grow.
- Increase standards for sponsors of virtual charter schools. Options that ODE and the Legislature could explore include spelling out individual district responsibilities in detail, increased ODE oversight of districts, and shifting sponsorship of the schools to a central body.
All good ideas.
The time is now to do something.
Addendum: I studied Oregon’s public virtual charter schools extensively in 2017. I found millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, appalling test scores, horrific graduation rates and failing schools just shopping around for new school district sponsors. For more, read the following: