Charter College Online Classes – Parents are increasingly turning to virtual for-profit charter schools as the coronavirus spreads. Credit: . Ruben Beck/Getty Images via AFP
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In August 2020, Amanda Nemergot was looking for private public school alternatives for her three daughters. Her fourth-grader, Paige, has ulcerative colitis, and she worries about the risk of sending her back from Covid-19. Her other two girls, in third and fifth grades, will be home on alternate days under the school’s hybrid schedule. She had enough to manage with her evening bartending job, so she was looking for an easier option.
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Then he saw an online ad for the Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy (OHDELA). It is a virtual charter school, tuition paid with taxpayer dollars, operated by the for-profit charter management company ACCEL Schools. The school’s website promises a “rigorous learning experience” delivered by highly qualified teachers. Nemergut admitted all three girls.
Soon Nemergut and her children, who live in Conneaut, Ohio, noticed problems. OHDELA’s model relies on parents to help monitor their children’s instruction, and Nemergut did, stepping up throughout the day to help with technical glitches and questions on assignments. But there were problems she couldn’t solve: The homework in class didn’t match the material the teachers were teaching. When teachers gave live instruction — no more than 20 minutes per class, Nemergot estimated — students couldn’t ask questions because the chats were blocked. When her daughters sent questions via email, they received no response. Teachers didn’t give credit for the work her children had turned in and marked them absent for the classes they attended, she said.
“My kids were like, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ And I said, ‘You guys aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s the school,'” Nemergat said. When she complained to the teachers, they blamed tech support or the curriculum designers, she said. Her daughters’ grades dropped. ;He failed all of his OHDELA classes since his third grade, getting A’s and B’s.
As parents fearful of the spread of the coronavirus and desperate for remote learning in their schools are looking for other options, they are increasingly turning to virtual for-profit charter schools as an option. At OHDELA, enrollment doubled to about 5,200 students in the 2020-2021 school year, according to state data. Stride Inc. In , the nation’s largest profitable operator of charters, enrollment rose 45 percent, to nearly 157,000, and revenue in its general education division rose 37 percent. Pearson, the parent company of Connections Education, the second largest for-profit online charter operator, reported enrollment growth in its virtual school division of 20 percent in 2018.
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One reason for the growth is the type of advertising that attracted Nemergut, who often draws on schools’ long experience with online instruction and teachers trained specifically in remote learning. Armed with large advertising budgets, schools have stepped up their marketing during the pandemic, often advertising on children’s channels.
Yet the ad rejects the record of these schools serving students. OHDELA receives an F rating from the Ohio Department of Education, receiving failing grades on measures including student performance on state tests, academic progress and graduation rates. Overall, about 63 percent of virtual for-profit schools — many of which are charter schools — were deemed unacceptable by their states in the most recent year for which data was available, according to a May 2021 report by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center. according to (NEPC). Online charters typically lag behind other schools on measures including student academic outcomes and graduation rates, and also suffer from high student turnover.
“What [Stride] and Connections (Pearson) have found is that it’s less expensive to advertise and recruit more students than to improve the quality of their schools so that students stay and learn. Gary Meron, an education researcher who co-authored a National Education Policy Center report on for-profit charter schools
Spokespeople for the schools say the criticism doesn’t reflect the fact that they often enroll students who are struggling academically, are enrolled for short periods of time, and have a history of changing schools frequently. is, a metric shown to harm academic performance. They also said they are taking steps to improve retention and graduation rates. ACCEL’s spokeswoman, Courtney Hurt, wrote via email that OHDELA’s enrollment surged as the school year began, creating operational challenges, and that ACCEL is making changes after taking over the school from another company in 2018.
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But because of the poor performance of many schools, experts worry that students will be left behind academically if more families choose them, especially now that the Delta variant has spread to personalized learning and states and neighborhoods. The security concerns about the pass districts have increased. Countries are eliminating remote learning alternatives.
“It’s really easy to grow [these companies] and it’s just incredible how much profit they make,” said Gary Meron, an education researcher who co-authored the National Education Policy Center report. “For 12 years we’ve been documenting their devastating results, and they’re just resilient.”
Virtual for-profit charter schools began in the early 2000s, as the companies that operate them seized on the business opportunity in online education that traditional public schools had begun half a decade earlier. Stride Inc., formerly K12 Inc., was founded in 2000 and by the next year had 900 students in Pennsylvania and Colorado. Today the company employs 157,000 people in 30 states. All told, more than 330,000 students attended virtual schools in 2019-20, about 60 percent of them for-profit, according to data from the National Education Policy Center.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, leaders of virtual charter companies quickly recognized an opportunity to attract more students to their roles. “We believe the effects of Covid-19 will be a lasting tailwind for online education and specifically for K12’s business model,” Timothy Medina, Stride’s chief financial officer, told investors on a call next month.
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Now, Delta’s diverse range of executives is raising expectations about their companies’ continued growth. “[A] lot of states that have spikes in delta variants, places like Texas, we just see unprecedented demand,” James Rao, chief executive officer of Stride, told investors in August 2021. “We think a lot of people are going to have ongoing concerns about security, and we think that bodes well for the long-term prospects for our business…”
“My kids were like, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ And I said, ‘You guys aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s school.'” Amanda Nemergot, mother, Ohio
Strayd spent about $1.8 million on TV ads in the first quarter of 2021 alone, up from $1.2 million in the same period last year, according to an analysis conducted for the Hatchinger Report by consulting firm Kantar Media. Connections Education spent $1.2 million in that period, nearly four times the previous year’s spending, the analysis showed.
Most of both companies’ online advertising is directed at children, according to an analysis by the Hatchinger Report by The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. Of Asteroid’s top online ad spenders between July 2020 and July 2021, three of the top five were Spanish- or English-language YouTube channels for children — such as the CoComelon Nursery Rhymes site, where the company spent about $21,000. Connexion spent even more on children’s web channels: Its top five online ad spenders were all on English-language children’s channels, led by The Kids’ Dyna Show at about $167,000.
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“The ad’s decision and intent is that while the parent is usually the one making the decision, the child is the influencer,” David Schmidt, a former senior executive at both Stray (then K12) and Connexion, wrote in an email; He is currently president of education consulting firm Wealthy. (Ken Schwartz, a spokesman for Asteroid, wrote in an email that the company “does not publicly disclose its marketing/advertising strategy.”)
Marketing does not reflect schools’ poor track record of serving students. Years of school rankings and student-level data consistently show subpar performance among schools operated by for-profit charters. Of the 47 strip schools that received a rating in the most recent school year for which data was available, 34 were deemed unacceptable by their states, according to the NEPC. Of the 28 conducted by Connection Education, 16 were found unacceptable.
These schools often defend their performance by saying that their students are different — they are held back academically by social, emotional or medical problems that make it difficult for them to attend brick-and-mortar schools. But a 2015 study by a Stanford University research team compared the academic outcomes of students at 158 online charter schools in 17 states with students at brick-and-mortar schools in their states on a number of characteristics, including pretest scores. Scores are included. The statistics were: Online charter students lost the equivalent of 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year.
And a 2018 report by the liberal Center for American Progress found that virtual for-profits
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