Some Students Have Thrived, But These Charters Are Failing At Scale
“I was a real daydreamer at school, gazing out of the window and losing myself in imaginary worlds” – Talulah Riley.
Did you enjoy your school days?
Do you remember those uncomfortable chairs in classrooms, classmates pulling your hair or laughing at you every now and then, and the numerous hours you spent watching clock’s hands moving so slowly that minutes turned into hours? Those boring lectures, teachers who reprimanded you without a good reason and the PE classes – how embarrassing they were! What if you could go back in time and transfer to a school where no one would be bullying you again, where you’d be learning what you want and when you want, at your own pace?
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And, guess what? Whereas such schools didn’t exist during your school days, they exist now. Thus, you don’t have to send your children to a neighborhood public school any longer where they’d be bored and bullied. You can send them to an online charter school, instead.
There are certainly some advantages of virtual charter schools:
- Flexible environment: students can complete their coursework online whenever they feel like, which is impossible in a public school setting where pupils have to stick to a rigid schedule,
- Possibility to participate in other activities: students can go to art or ballet schools full time and catch up on their coursework afterwards (in a public school they would have to miss classes so as to be able to attend the extracurricular activities),
- Individualized program: students learn at their own pace and don’t get bored while waiting until their classmates catch up. Instead, they can spend more time on those tasks they find challenging,
- Social issues eliminated: students learn in a safe home environment, which means they won’t get bullied or join school gangs, which often happens in public schools.
Considering all the benefits of virtual charter schools, many believe they are the best type of schools nowadays. However, appearances can be deceiving.
Online Charter Schools: The Problems
The paradox about virtual charter schools is that they my seem ideal, but they don’t work. On average, each enrolls over 2,000 students per year and loses 600 hundreds annually. It begs the question, why?
Well, there are 3 main reasons why online charter schools aren’t successful:
They can’t maintain students’ engagement
One of the problems with online charter schools is that children have to learn alone. There aren’t enough teachers to instruct them. Compare:
- In a public school, there are 16 students per one teacher,
- In online charter schools, there are 100 students per one teacher.
That’s 6 times the national average for public schools! Thus, students don’t receive enough attention, get bored and are more prone to engage in other activities than learning.
Another reason why virtual charter schools fail to maintain pupils’ engagement is that their courses are either too rigorous, simple or not flexible enough. That leaves students being either unchallenged or unable to complete the given tasks. In any case, that results in parents transferring their kids to public schools.
They don’t live up to academic expectations
Another disadvantage of online charter schools is that they often fail to deliver quality education. Thus, their students fall behind their brick-and-mortar school peers. When you compare the math progress of students from traditional and online facilities, those who attend online charter schools perform much worse than those who go to public schools. In fact, when the Center for Research on Education Outcomes carried out a comparative study, the math performance of students from online schools was so poor that it looked as if they’d missed 180 days of learning.
What’s worse, since there are few teachers watching over the progress of hundreds of students, these teachers are often unavailable. Thus, students tend to receive no answers when they send emails asking for help, explanation or advice. That means, parents need to serve as coaches for their children. However, having a busy job and housework to do, parents have no time to instruct their kids.
They don’t provide students with social interaction
Many parents confess that studying at home has a negative impact on their children’s behavior: they become moody, sad and even, depressed. No wonder!
After all, it’s a public school where you make first friendships. Thus, kids who learn at home, go out less often and have fewer possibilities to meet kids in their age, play together, socialize and make friends.
Right. But, in public schools children get often bullied. Why would parents risk having their kids oppressed rather than sad? Well, social interaction is vital for children’s mental health, no matter if it’s positive or negative. It’s necessary. Consider:
- Bullying teaches us to be brave and stand up to a bully,
- Being cheated by a classmate teaches us that not everyone can be trusted,
- Finding a true friend, on the other hand, makes us feel safe, happy and satisfied.
Thus, all types of social interactions teach students vital lessons. They also prepare children for other, more complicated future social interactions, such as dealing with a difficult roommate in college, or a toxic colleague at work.
Now, if online charter schools don’t start providing their students with social interaction, they’ll keep on losing pupils. Here, public schools have the advantage.
Is There Any Hope For Online Charter Schools?
Yes, there is.
Although there are many problems with virtual charter schools, they are not unsolvable. Those schools could become a perfect option for many students if they agree to make some changes.
Here are a few ideas on how online charter schools could be improved:
- Curricula need revision,
- More teachers need to be employed, so that students could get in touch with them easily,
- Courses as well as exercises need to be more interesting and challenging for pupils,
- Since students need more contact, support and instruction from teachers, teachers should be available on live chat. Also, frequent lessons via Skype could be of great help to those students who need more explanations,
- In order to provide students with social interaction, online charter schools could organize trips, meetings or contests so that children could get to know each other and make friends.
Unlike common belief, online charter schools aren’t ideal. Because of the three huge disadvantages discussed in this article, they keep on losing students. However, it doesn’t need to be like this.
Virtual charter schools could become better schools. Perhaps even the best you can send your child to. But, that requires making certain improvements. On those improvements depends their future: growth or slow extinction.