This post briefly reviews Cathy Cavanaugh, “Effectiveness of Cyber Charters: A Review of Research on Learnings” in Tech Trends 53, no. 4 (July/August 2009): 28-31 [available fulltext here]
In another article taken from the special issue of Tech Trends devoted to cyber schools, Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of educational technology at the University of Florida at Gainesville, summarizes the literature on the effectiveness of cyberschools. Cavanaugh begins with an orientation to the Cyber Charter phenomenon, noting that as of 2008 there were 180 cyber charters operating in 25 states. She includes wonderful graphs showing the rate of growth of the movement over the years and the number of schools in each state. She then notes that most of the literature on cyber charters has tended to focus on management styles and policy issues rather than achievement. There are many, many reasons achievement in virtual schooling is difficult to measure and compare to acheivement in traditional schools. It is not surprising therefore that “the limited research on student achievement in cyber charters shows mixed outcomes when the cyber schools are compared with classroom-based school programs.” (p. 30).
So that future studies can provide more reliable information, Cavanaugh suggests a research agenda that seeks above all for cyber charters to keep better records: records of student demographics, course behavior and performance, descriptions of pedagogy. Uniform language needs to be created so that the incredible variety of cyber charters mean the same thing when recording this data. Better data will lead to more reliable research findings.
This is a great primer article for anyone interested in researching cyber schools. Cavanaugh’s clear writing and great reference section are a wonderful introduction to this fledgling field of study.