More than 17,000 public school students enrolled in online courses during the 2010-11 school year, according to the study, called "Virtual Schools in Texas: Good for Kids or Merely Good for Profit?" In the fall 2011 semester, 6,000 students were enrolled full time in virtual schools through the Texas Virtual Schools Network, a group of school districts that share virtual courses.
According to the study, "Full-time online learning may have the potential to serve some students well. However, there is little evidence that this potential has been realized."
The performance of the online schools has been shaky, the study states. Two of the three operating in 2010-11 - Texas Connections and Texas Virtual Academy -- received "academically unacceptable" ratings from the Texas Education Agency. The third, IQ Academy, received a rating of "acceptable." The ratings are based on student performance.
Costs to the state for buying the courses from private, for-profit companies are equivalent to the costs of those classes in brick-and-mortar classrooms, and per-student costs to the district are unclear from public records, the study states.
Opening up the market for more for-profit schools and more competition could improve the quality and outcomes of virtual schools, said James Golson, an education policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Parents will choose the schools that are best for their students.
"The real potential benefit is the chance to kind of tailor your education experience. Not every kid is going to be suited to sitting in front of a classroom," Golson said. Virtual schools are "not going to be the answer for every single student, but it could help some."
Raise Your Hand Texas recommends in the report that legislators increase accountability for the providers whose students perform poorly.
The Senate Education Committee meets Monday for a hearing on virtual schools. Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, will chair the meeting. She could not be reached for comment.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/public-education/virtual-schools-show-poor-performance-questionable/.