Virtual Schools: Assessing Progress and Accountability

Ohio has the third-largest number of students enrolled in virtual education in the country. And many of the purveyors of online education are, apparently, not producing strong results for their students. It seems imperative that parents, legislators, taxpayers, and virtual-schooling advocates take action to ensure accountability for these schools, which are now expanding again in Ohio after a moratorium borne out of previous quality concerns. Public Impact has published a new report suggesting that what is needed is not anything new or unusual in terms of accountability measures—in fact, the same sorts of accountability mechanisms and processes we insist upon for brick-and-mortar schools can easily be adapted to help assess virtual schools, as well. And it may even be easier with virtual schools, as electronic data is readily available and easily portable in most areas of measurement and reporting. Where it seems that accountability for virtual schools does break down is in their unique structure. For example, on the input side, many teacher-prep programs don’t deal with the needs of virtual education, yet teachers are licensed the same for online and brick-and-mortar schools. Fully online schools are uniquely unsuited to site visits, a staple element of best practice for charter-school authorizing. Student enrollment, grading, and tracking processes may be very different for virtual schools, but they may also represent new ways that brick-and-mortar schools could address these very same issues. In the end, the authors’ findings include a need to focus accountability for all schools on outcomes; to improve accountability links to providers, teachers, and other adults; and to ramp up consequences attached to performance, both positive and negative.

SOURCE: Gillian Locke, Joe Ableidinger, Bryan C. Hassel, Sharon Kebschull Barrett, Virtual Schools: Assessing Progress and Accountability (Washington, DC: National Charter School Resource center, February 2014).

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