For Dante Hutchinson, 13, traditional schools and their social dynamics were always a source of severe anxiety and everyday struggle.
That’s why Brook Hutchinson, his mother, decided to move him to his hometown charter school in 2015. Unfortunately, it closed, and with no other alternatives for the locals, Mrs. Hutchinson had to register her boy in Wisconsin Virtual Academy, 200 miles from McFarland School District.
The boy quickly fell behind, especially when it comes to math — last February, he was expelled from the virtual school since he failed to participate. Back to public school, he got even further behind and became the victim of bullying again.
Mrs. Brook, a full-time working mother of four, was traumatized, and so was her entire family.
The story of Dante Hutchinson is not a solitary example. There have already been about 2,500 students in the state of Wisconsin who dropped out of virtual schools in the period between 2016 and 2017. This is around 40 percent of enrolled kids, according to analysis.
Even worse, those students who had to switch between virtual charter schools and more traditional education ended up with much lower scores in math the year after they switched.
All over the country, cyber schools have been subject to both criticism and recognition.
Erin Richards, a reporter of Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, was interested in the impact of enrolment churns on students’ academic performance.
It turns out virtual schools represent flexible alternative to regular traditional schools. But on the other hand, virtual schools have low graduation rates as well as score rates while their owners run huge profits.
The high level of turnover poses a question of whether students are getting the high quality of education they were promised.
This turnover is connected with low scores and behavioral problems, according to research. It afflicts teachers too and breaks important social ties. High turnover rates also hinder academic reforms while holding back the enrolled students.
Urban districts are dealing with the highest churn rates. But districts with a large number of virtual schools are close behind.
Forty-two online charter schools are active in the state of Wisconsin. Most of the students live in a different district, and some 60 percent of them attend the schools via Open Enrolment.
According to state enrolment data from 2016 and 2017, about 38 percent of students switched from online schools to brick-and-mortar schools. Some 40 percent disappeared, meaning they pursued homeschooling. About ten percent opted for another virtual school.
Based on the same data source, students who switched to a virtual charter school had a 30-point drop in scores regarding the state exam in math. Those who left virtual schools showed a 10-point drop.
Data analysis also indicate that children who moved to virtual schools are having a hard time adapting to the new environment.
Why Students Switch?
Switching is sometimes good and inevitable because parents, as well as students, are looking for new options due to bad experiences in previous schools. From a legal perspective, virtual schools must accept the enrolment of all interested students despite their bad academic histories.
However, these schools are not obliged to keep anyone, and they are allowed to drop the students who don’t do anything. In the period between 2016 and 2017, about 460 students were expelled from various online schools for failing to participate. Many ended up getting homeschooled.
Students Who Outscore in Virtual Schools
On the other hand, many students excel in virtual schools. There are many success stories, especially when it comes to students with mental health issues or highly motivated students who can progress at a faster pace.
Chandos Vander Wielen from Appleton enrolled her daughter in Bridges Virtual Academy some 120 miles away from their district. Chandos liked having independence from the traditional schedule as well as overall customization of her daughter’s education.
Better Support for Online Students
It’s difficult to say who will be successful after finishing online charter schools. One of the major issues is that not every home district would entirely and gladly embrace students from open enrolment virtual schools.
The principle of eAchieve academy, Nicholas Sutherland, said that home districts represent the problem since they are not doing enough for the re-enrolment of students emerging from online schools.
Also, as Kate Henn, a language and speech pathologist, claims parents are not informed enough about what their children are doing for their virtual studies.
Better assistance for virtual students would be of utmost importance in order to decrease blatant switching and dropouts.
JEDI Virtual School provides online literacy classes for students before classes begin. Also, some districts show great effort to enable more in-house support programs for resident students in order to avoid watching them move to some virtual schools.