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A comparative study between online charter high schools and traditional high schools in California

, California State University, Fresno, United States

California State University, Fresno . Awarded


The percentage of students who graduate from high school within four years in the United States has remained between 65 and 70% since the late 1960s. Despite various educational reforms, the number of students who are at-risk of dropping out of high school has remained constant, increasing in some years and decreasing in other years. Two innovative educational movements developed in the 1990s may help to reduce the number of school dropouts: charter schools and online schools. The first state charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991 and then California in 1992. Since then, more than 4500 charter schools have developed across the U.S. Among all states, California has the largest number of charter schools and the largest number of charter school students (20% of all students attending charter schools reside in California).

This study compared students attending online charter schools with students attending traditional high schools in California to determine if at-risk students are more successful in online charter schools. There were 10 online charter high schools (grades 9-12) chosen that had operated for more than two years. A random sample of 10 traditional high schools were chosen as comparison schools based on the percentage of free and reduced lunch students, an indicator of at-risk students. Analysis revealed that the number of students attending online charter schools increased yearly by more than 80% between 2006 and 2009 in California and represents less than 1% of the total high school enrollment. Further analysis revealed that the percentage of students who scored proficient or above on the California Standards English Language Arts test was similar in both online charter and traditional high schools. Conversely, the number of students who drop out of high school was greater in online charter schools than in traditional high schools. Pearson’s chi-square was used to determine significance. Although chi-square results did show significance in sampling, there was not enough data available to suggest that at-risk students are being more successful in online charter schools at this time.


Darrow, R.W. A comparative study between online charter high schools and traditional high schools in California. Ph.D. thesis, California State University, Fresno. Retrieved April 24, 2019 from .

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