I am going to try to do some new posts called “Research Commentaries.” This is where I will provide an article and briefly discuss strengths and weaknesses. I will pick articles that focus on my emerging expertise.
Computers and Education article from July:
“Why they choose and how it goes: Comparing special education and general education cyber student perceptions”
By: Dennis Beck, Anna Egaliteb, Robert Marantob
While critics offer concerns that cyber charter schools under-enroll special education students, such schools may offer advantages for these students, and some cyber schools have identified this market niche. Little is known about such schools. We surveyed parents (n = 232; 48.7% response rate) and students (n = 269; 53.7% response rate) at a cyber charter school that we will call SunTech, where special education students account for 26% of the student body. Findings indicate that special education students and their parents were more likely than general education peers to mention behavioral issues as influencing their decision to choose SunTech. Compared to general education counterparts, special education students and parents reported somewhat higher levels of satisfaction in the school and somewhat lower levels of satisfaction in their prior schools. Implications are discussed.
This is an interesting topic that carries with it the undercurrent of an important question: How do we best serve special education students?
The authors here seem to suggest that special education students may be better off in a cyber charter school (or an online learning environment in general). Advantages of this include a more comfortable environment, lack of appropriate resources at school that may be found at home, and increased attention. These are compelling thoughts.
My main concern with this article is with selection bias (which they note). It seems like the authors interview students who stay in cyber charter schools, but how about those who leave? Cyber schools have high turnover rates (in some of my work as much as 33% within a single year). Interviewing only the stayers would bias the sample towards favorable. They mention this, but it is a HUGE issue.
Also, I am curious why they only focus on relative satisfaction. This is another large concern of mine. Doing the study this way allows for the counterfactual: “Both sets of students (special ed and not) at cyber charter schools dislike cyber charter schools more than traditional schools, but special ed just happens to have a smaller proportion of those dislikes.” An important comparison, then, would be to compare perceptions from special ed cyber charter to general ed cyber charter.
Now, of course this is a highly difficult issue to remedy these problems and is true of perception literature in general. I am also curious to see how the authors consider other topics related to this: student achievement and other outcomes besides perception, for example. Also, I am curious (for a much different article of course) in the difference in satisfaction between cyber charters and students in general. A perception survey is one thing, but choice via selecting out of cybers is another. Do special education students stay longer in cyber charter schools than non-special ed students? How does this look in a traditional school?
Of course, my comments are not going to be answered in the one article and touch on topics that fall way outside of its boundaries, but they are questions that should move research forward.