Research Brief: Why online education can’t replace brick-and-mortar K-12 schooling

In the Public Interest has gathered the following research on online education, revealing a long track record of poor academic performance, lack of equity and access, and privacy concerns.


Below are news stories about the failures of virtual charter schools and unregulated edtech:

Massive Palm Beach County School District Student Password Breach
Boca News Now, May 12, 2020
A second grader hacked the Palm Beach County School District’s Google Classroom account’s password system, drawing into question the authenticity of assignments completed by the district’s 176,000 students since distance learning began due to coronavirus.

In a damning audit, Indiana calls on two virtual schools to repay $85 million in misspent state funds
Chalkbeat Indiana, February 12, 2020
An investigation by Indiana state auditors found that officials from two virtual charter schools misspent more than $85 million in state funding by inflating enrollment and funneling millions to a tangled web of related companies.

How a Truly Epic Charter School Fraud Unfolded in Oklahoma
The Progressive, August 6, 2019
A 2019 investigation by the Oklahoma Attorney General and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation found that the state’s largest virtual charter school operation, Epic Charter School, allegedly recruited homeschooled and privately enrolled students and provided families $800-$1,000 in “student funds” as an incentive. These students received minimal instruction, but still allowed the school to collect the allotted per-student amount.

How does a $50 million charter scam work?
The Washington Post, June 17, 2019
In May 2019, 11 people were indicted in California in connection with a virtual charter school scam that defrauded the state of more than $50 million in education funds.

How students at online schools in Washington disappear from district graduation rates
KNKX, April 24, 2019
A 2019 NPR investigation found that if students at the Insight School of Washington, an online charter school operated by the for-profit corporation K12 Inc., were counted in the Quillayute Valley’s graduation rate in 2017-18, the district’s graduation rate would drop by about 40 percentage points.

ECOT, Ohio’s largest online charter school, officially closes
Dayton Daily News, January 18, 2018
In 2018, Ohio regulators discovered that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) could show that just 6,300 of their supposed 15,300-strong student body were actively learning and attending the virtual charter school. As a result, the school was fined $80 million and subsequently closed. The school had a trouble track record. In 2014, less than 40 percent of ECOT seniors graduated. At the same time, businesses affiliated with ECOT’s founder, William Lager, received $23 million from ECOT.

California Attorney General probe leads to $168.5 million settlement with for-profit online school operator
The Mercury News, July 8, 2016
In 2016, K12 Inc. settled a lawsuit with the state of California related false claims, false advertising, and breaking unfair business practices laws for misleading ads about students’ academic progress, parent satisfaction, class sizes, and quality of instructional materials at the company’s California Virtual Academy (CAVA).

K12 Inc. Settles Suit Filed by Investors
EdWeek, March 12, 2013
In 2013, K12 Inc. settled a lawsuit that had alleged the company’s chief financial officer and chief executive officer had made false and misleading statements about the company in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and in statements to shareholders. K12 Inc. agreed to pay almost $7 million to the plaintiffs.

In K12 Courses, 275 Students to a Single Teacher
Florida Center for Investigative, Reporting, September 16, 2012
In 2012, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that K12 Inc. teachers may be charged with instructing as many as 275 pupils concurrently.

Report: Florida Investigating K12 Inc. for Using Noncertified Teachers
EdWeek Market Brief, September 11, 2012
K12 Inc. was investigated in Florida in 2012 for using non-certified teachers for the Seminole Virtual Instruction Program, which is provided by the publicly traded company.

Overworked and Underpaid? Teacher Staffing at Colorado Virtual Academy
KUNC, March 19, 2012
According to a 2012 NPR investigation, K12 Inc. was taking an estimated 77 cents of every taxpayer dollar the Colorado Virtual School was receiving.

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools
The New York Times, December 13, 2011
In 2011, Agora Cyber Charter School drew the attention of the New York Times, which found that nearly 60 percent of its students were behind grade level in math; nearly 50 percent trailed in reading; a third did not graduate on time; and hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, were withdrawing within months after they enroll. Despite this poor performance, Agora was expecting an annual income of $72 million, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total anticipated revenues of its parent company, K12 Inc.