K – 12 Online Education

The Center for Education Policy just issued its updated report on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for 2010-2011.  AYP is a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the goal is 100% of students reaching proficiency by 2014.  The report shows that public schools and are struggling; indeed they appear to be falling further behind.  This report is instructive in light of recent criticism of online K-12 education.

There were several very important findings of the report:

  • Approximately 48% of public schools did not make adequate yearly progress in 2011, an increase from the 39% which did not make AYP in 2010.
  • The 48% failing to make AYP makes 2011 the worst year’s report since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect.
  • States varied widely, e.g., Wisconsin with 11% failing to the State of Florida with 89% failing; in my own State of Arizona, 42% of schools did not demonstrate AYP.

The Center for Education Policy uses data from the Consolidated State Performance Reports that states submit to the U. S. Department of Education.  The Center does not separate out AYP for charter schools or online schools that contract with for-profit curriculum providers.  The online schools have been the object of a recent spate of critical newspaper articles, including ones from The New York Times and my local paper, the Arizona Republic with its series that began on December 10 2011.  Perhaps such criticism of novel approaches that depart from traditional education should not be surprising.  What is important is the carefully measured performance that comes from these novel approaches to education reform.

The New York Times quoted a forthcoming study from the National Education Policy Center, supported by the National Education Association, with estimates of only one-third of online schools having made AYP.  Whether the comparison of AYP between online schools and traditional schools is valid is hard to judge, especially in light of what we already know about AYP comparisons for public schools.

The movement of states toward non-national standards for AYP in the future will make comparisons even more difficult.  Already, the data make the concept of comparisons of AYP troublesome.  For example, states may fluctuate from year to year on the basis of changing measures of AYP, changing goals, etc.  Whether an online school is comparable to other schools within a given state is also problematic.  A research report, State Policy Differences Greatly Impact AYP Numbers, details the source of fluctuations in the national data.  This year, Massachusetts, long highlighted for its tough testing standards, reports that 81% of its schools did not made AYP, a rising trend from 41% in 2006.  Of course, the national trend is one that Massachusetts is tracking with a national rising percentage of schools that do not make AYP.

That AYP is important need not be stated.  Those who study public education are aware of the U. S. education shortfall relative to global standards.  What is needed now is not retrenchment and defensiveness but additional work to raise standards at our schools – traditional, online and charter.  What are also needed are careful, unbiased comparisons between different models for improving education.  As I observed in The Growth in Education Reform and its Benefits, we are beginning to see solutions that make a difference.  We only must have the will to adopt them in the face of pressure to continuing doing what we have always done.


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