Online Charter School Study 2015

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), Mathematica Policy Research, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) have undertaken a collection of studies to contribute more extensive information on the landscape and operation of online charter schools and their impact on students’ academic growth than has been available to date. Our aim was to deliver an unbiased, datadriven examination of online charter schools. The intent of this report is to present to lay-readers and policy decision makers information based on advanced statistical models of student growth in a manner which is accessible and useful for the promotion of deeper discussion of the role of online schools in the K-12 setting. This report presents the findings about impacts of online charter enrollment on the academic progress of students.

Online schools, especially online charter schools, are a tiny, but rapidly growing sector in the education realm. Full-time online schools are still a relatively new phenomenon, and some states have seen enrollment growth which is literally exponential. While the overall percentage of students who attend online schools is small, only 0.5% of students in our data, based on increasing growth rates we should expect to see continued expansion of online educational services. The online schools within our 18 state data set have increased their tested student enrollment from 35,000 students in 2009-10 to over 65,000 students in 2012-13. Based on even modest funding levels of $6,000 per student, 65,000 students represents a public investment of $390,000,000 annually. With the number of students expected to continue to grow rapidly, good stewardship demands an examination of the outcomes of public investment.

This report presents the findings of an ambitious scope of analysis about online charter schools and their performance. The findings look at performance at several levels: at the individual student level, at the student population level, at the organizational level of the online schools and at the state policy level. Each facet of the analysis offers its particular insights about the influence of online charter schooling on the students who attend them.