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Oklahoma Lawmakers' Interim Study on Virtual Charter Performance is Inconclusive


How are Oklahoma’s four virtual charter schools performing? State lawmakers found out in an interim study Thursday it’s hard to say.

Experts told Oklahoma lawmakers for the most part, the largest virtual charter school, Epic, is outperforming public schools in state testing, while its third-largest, Oklahoma Connections Academy, is comparable in English Language arts.

Sen. Ron Sharp, however, took issue with how their calculations, which compared very different proportions of students.

"Thirty-one percent FAY for virtual charter school versus 93 percent of FAY for a traditional public school," Sharp said, referring to students counted as attending the full academic year and required to take state tests. "Therefore, the standard [deviation] is 15 percent, 15th percentile of any standard [deviation] — this is crap."

When it comes to graduation rates, virtual charter schools' rates for 2016 to 2017 ranged from 30 to 44 percent, while the state’s was 83. Sheryl Tatum is head of school at two virtual charters and said those are based on four-year cohorts that tie students to their last school, even newly enrolled seniors who then drop out.

"When you look at it a different way, when they take out the cohort where you have these seniors, then we’re getting kids across the stage," Tatum said.

Tatum said 86 percent of Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy students enrolled there continuously from ninth through 12th grade graduated in 2017.

Virtual charter school supporters said they enroll many more kids who are behind, struggling or moving from school to school than public schools do.

Epic Charter Schools Superintendent David Chaney said a related issue is brick-and-mortar schools receive much more state funding.

"We’re expected to produce the same or better academic results with half the funding," Chaney said.

Sharp took exception to that.

"They have band, they have electricity. They have so many different costs of which your students do not incur," Sharp said.

Virtual charter school enrollment in Oklahoma has grown from less than 4,800 in 2013 to nearly 12,000 last year.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.