National News

Online virtual schools behind traditional schools in performance and graduation rate

Posted June 21, 2018 11:35 a.m. EDT

— Online virtual schools have been offering students a way to learn from the convenience of their homes for years, but the numbers show they're still lagging far behind traditional schools in student performance and graduation rate.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, the state has 27 virtual schools, with more than 10,000 students who get their education almost exclusively online. The state also has five "full virtual schools," with close to 6,500 students.

Allegra Mansfield, who lives in northeast Portland, has been enrolled in virtual school since she was in second grade and needed surgery to address a hearing problem.

"And that would have put her out of class longer than the state allows. So we found the Oregon Virtual Academy," Kevin Mansfield, Allegra's father said.

Oregon Virtual Academy, or ORVA, is run by a company called K-12, which operates the most virtual schools in the country.

"It allows school to be done wherever, whenever there is an internet connection," Steve Werlein, Head of School for ORVA said. "I think the biggest advantage for families is they get to be part of their child's education."

But virtual schools have also been frequently criticized, for poor student performance and low graduation rates.

"Virtual schools are a good choice for some students, but those tend to be students who are well self-directed, they stay on task," John Larson, President of the Oregon Education Association said. "Unfortunately, those aren't the type of students that take online schools."

According to statistics from the Oregon Department of Education, the percent of 9th graders who were on track to graduate in the 2015-2016 school year was just 55.9%, compared to a statewide mark of 85.9%.

At ORVA, specifically, 46.7% of students were considered proficient in English and Language Arts, compared to the statewide average of 53.6%. In Math, only 21.3% of students were considered proficient, compared to the state average of 40.8%.

Virtual schools also compete with public brick-and-mortar schools for funding. Oregon's two biggest virtual schools, ORVA and Oregon Connections Academy, are both for-profit companies.

"For-profit companies that run schools, they don't have to take every student that comes to them, they don't have to offer accommodations for students who may have special needs," Larson said.

Mansfield and her family, though, have found a virtual education works for her. Her test scores are above average, and her grades are good, her father said.

Kevin Mansfield said he's asked his daughter if she'd like to go back and try public school, but she prefers her online education.