The Mackinac Center’s Online School Blind Spot

A recent communique from the Mackinac Center, Governor’s Cyber School Cuts Don’t Add Up, complained about a surprisingly progressive feature of Governor Snyder’s state budget proposal: pay online schools less for each of their students than neighborhood public schools get.

The reasoning is obvious (to most people): neighborhood public schools have costs that electronic schools don’t. Buildings for instance. And utilities.

And a rational number of teachers. As The Truth About K12, Inc. shows, the sky is the limit on teacher/student ratios at cyber schools:


K12 raio

This NPR report established that when a school, almost always a charter school, approaches K12, Inc. to provide its curriculum, the amount it pays varies with the student/teacher ratio. Which makes it pretty easy to make money when you employ so few teachers. Even with the smaller foundation grant proposed by Snyder.

This kind of performance data on cyber schools isn’t hard to find. If you’re really looking for it. For example, the Great Lakes Center just issued its yearly review of the research on online school quality. It said:

Policymakers slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual schools and the size
of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have
been identified and addressed.

The Mackinac Center argument against the Snyder proposal is that neighborhood public schools can pay many of their expenses through local bond proposals, which cyber charters can’t do. Naturally, the Center ignores the major staffing differences between online schools and normal public schools and pretends the only difference is buildings.

Probably knowing that the local funding argument is thin, it moves on to rave about just how great online schools are, and points, as proof, to one of its own studies. Not surprisingly (especially if you remember that one of its board members founded a major charter school chain) its study found that charter schools are really great: “five of the seven cyber schools serving high schoolers performed on level with most of their peers.”

What, exactly does “performed on level” mean? Or “with most of their peers?” Most? Not exactly scientific language.

But it can’t stop. It says:


The Mackinac Center gave Connections Academy an A. Given its murky methodology, this isn’t too shocking.  Clearly, the Mackinac Center approach doesn’t include facts that most people would consider important. Like graduation and drop out rates.

We think they’re important:


Notice that all of the state’s cyber charter schools fall behind the state average for both dropout and graduation rate. Also notice that the state dropout rate is 8.9%, Connections Academy, 24.3%. The state graduation rate is 79.7%, Connections, 55.9%. Keep in mind that both state averages include all of the listed online school rates, and are therefore reduced by them.

All of this data is available to anyone with a computer. That is, a computer and an interest in actual facts.


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