Students who attend online charter schools – and receive no instruction from an in-person teacher – do much worse than their peers in traditional schools according to recently released research.

Described as first-of-its-kind research, the analysis was conducted through a partnership between Mathematica Policy Research, Stanford University’s CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) and the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Study results show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to traditional public school students.  According to the report, “To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school years.

In other words, it was the same as a student missing an entire year of math instruction.

“Academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule,” the report concluded.

Some 17 states and the District of Columbia permit online charter schools. The research found that, overall, online charters performed dismally. A few states had online schools that performed better than others; also, some students flourished in these schools.

Online-only schools tended to give teachers bigger workloads – assigning an average of 30 students per teacher as compared to 20 students per teacher in traditional public schools. Brian Gill, a senior fellow at Mathematica, said that a combination of lean staffing and limited teacher contact might be driving one of the biggest problems cited by the operators of online schools: a lack of student engagement.

For a more detailed look at key findings in this study, go here.