This blog post was co-authored by Padmini Jambulapati and Erin Dillon.
Part VII of a new blog series exploring data from Ohio e-schools. While online learning is still new to the vast majority of K-12 students and schools, Ohio has operated “e-schools,” public charter schools that operate entirely online and which students “attend” on a full-time basis, for a decade. As policy debates around online learning grow, what do we know about these schools–who do they enroll and how well do they perform–and what can we learn from Ohio’s e-school experience?
During this blog series on Ohio’s e-schools, we’ve been pretty clear that Ohio needs to do a better job of holding its existing e-schools accountable for student performance, especially for those schools serving students at risk of dropping out. Yesterday we looked at the demographics of students enrolled in Ohio’s e-schools, and found that, while there is no ‘average’ e-school student, e-schools do tend to serve a more economically disadvantaged student population than Ohio’s public schools and tend to serve a higher percentage of students with disabilities. Since these two groups of students are often most in need of a high-quality education, this raises the stakes even higher for ensuring that Ohio’s e-schools are doing the best possible job of educating their students.
But holding e-schools accountable is a difficult task: How do you know if students are truly ‘attending’ e-schools and engaging with the curriculum? How do you manage the logistics of getting students to take state tests—and does that even make sense given the rich data available through computer-based lessons? And how do you address the issue of student mobility? As a recent brief by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers points out, online schools are more likely to have students that enroll for only part of the year and aren’t enrolled when testing takes place, or to have students that leave after just one year, making it more difficult to assess online schools using growth models.
Today we take a look at the mobility issue using data from the Ohio Department of Education on the percent of students in e-schools that are enrolled less than a year, between one and three years, and more than three years. The chart below shows the breakdown for each school by these ‘longevity’ categories (some schools only had data reported for ‘one to three years’ – the other categories are left blank) and divided by where the school gets its students (statewide, regional or local).
(Use the interactive features of the chart to get information about each of Ohio’s 27 e-schools. Roll over each bar to see demographics, enrollment, and performance information about each e-school. To download the full chart and data, click on the ‘download’ link – this requires you to download the free public version of Tableau. To download a spreadsheet of the data in the chart, click on the export icon – the tray with an arrow.)
On average, nearly 30 percent of e-school students were enrolled less than one year and just 11 percent were enrolled more than three years. The majority—about 64 percent—fell in the middle. There are some differences by the type of e-school, with statewide e-schools having the highest percent of students on average enrolled in both the ‘more than three years’ and ‘one to three years’ categories.
So, is having 30 percent of e-school students enrolled less than one year too high? It’s hard to say at this point. This may simply reflect the novelty of online learning–it’s something families try, but then realize it’s not a good fit for them. Many students may also take classes to recover credits quickly or need an online environment because of illness or other circumstances, and don’t plan stay past a year. And while all but five of Ohio’s e-schools serve grades K-12 (three are 9-12), the grade levels at which students enroll may affect how many years they stay. On the other hand, families committed to homeschooling are likely to stay multiple years at the same e-school.
While 30 percent may be higher than most brick and mortar traditional public schools, an important part of expanding school choice, through online and brick and mortar schools, is allowing students more mobility. As choice continues to expand, policymakers should anticipate higher mobility rates and will need to adjust accountability systems accordingly.
Next we’ll wrap up this series on Ohio’s e-schools by discussing the policy implications of Ohio’s decade of experience with online learning.