Evidence of outcomes in online learning: education management organizations are getting better at sharing their results

In recent blog posts I’ve discussed the shortcoming of research in education, my concerns about the seemingly endless requirement for “more evidence” in order to allow online schools to grow, and the shortcomings of state data and accountability systems. Although I was quite critical of the NEPC report in my previous post, I appreciate the report’s highlighting of the shortage of good information on outcomes being reported by states. In the absence of good state reporting, we are beginning to see some data being published by education management organizations such as Connections Education (disclosure: Connections is an Evergreen client).

In Challenges in Measuring Online School Performance (article starts on page 4), Connections CEO Barbara Dreyer writes “One of the major criticisms of full-time online schools is that their state standardized test results are lower than students’ scores in traditional schools. In addition, while there are some full-time online programs that score well on some states’ accountability measures, most do not.”

Dreyer goes on to say “we believe that this reflects a simplistic view of a complex issue. We believe that the value of these programs needs to be determined based on an analysis of the performance of comparable student populations in traditional schools and that the composition of the tested population also is important when comparing the performance of online schools to each other.” The article then looks at other factors including family income and timing of enrollment, and what Connections schools are doing to address issues being raised by the data.

We believe that the advances in instructional practice are going to be based more on individual schools, districts, and providers evaluating what works, than on large and expensive studies that attempt to set up the equivalent of clinical trials in medical studies. Connections certainly doesn’t answer all the questions about performance of online students with this report, but its move towards transparency and sharing of data is a valuable step.