Online schools may not be lagging after all

Journal editorial

An outfit identifying itself as the National Education Policy Center garnered attention with a report last week which had unflattering things to say about online education.
The center based at University of Colorado publicized its findings that students taking K12 classes in Idaho and four other states are falling behind traditional schools in math and reading results.
It turns out that’s not exactly true, though it may be partly the case. The center this week issued a correction, saying the student achievement findings were based on national evidence and not specific to any state — such as Idaho. Researchers said they examined federal data on Idaho but their information on the state’s K12 for-profit schools was incomplete compared to what they had for Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Specifically, Idaho’s state math and reading assessment results “were incomplete.”
In other words, Idaho kids in online programs may, or may not, be trailing their traditional peers. The researchers still maintain their overall conclusion that K12 students are lagging in math and reading. Maybe so, but isn’t research supposed to be based on verifiable facts?
It should have been encouraging that traditional schools, which far outnumber the online variety, were exonerated in the center’s initial report. K12 has managed online schools in 29 states with mixed results, and the company contended from the start that the Colorado center’s finding were flawed, lacking evidence to back up its claims.
The report relies on “static, end-of-the-year test data,” said the company.
Associated Press points out that the debate over virtual learning has become heated in Idaho, where students have to take at least two credits online to graduate high school under education reforms that were approved in 2011 and will go before voters in November.
Proponents say online classes help states save money while also better prepare students for college, while opponents claim they replace teachers with computers and shift taxpayer money to out-of-state companies.
An outbreak of television ads which proclaim the superiority of for-profit K12 schools has appeared in Idaho recently, and perhaps in other states. But it’s not easy to decide if the information is distorted, or inaccurate as to student achievement.
Local school boards are more likely to provide accurate information, unless and until we can verify the findings of such organizations as the National Education Policy Center, which now has a reliability problem.