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William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,
Daniel Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Third Virtual Schools Report Released

Finds Policy Vacuum on Funding, Curriculum, Teacher Quality

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Mar. 10, 2015) – Virtual schools are today a focal point for policymakers interested in expanding education choice and making public schools both more efficient and more technologically current. In 2013, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, released the first of a planned series of annual reports on the policy issues that virtual schools raise, the available research evidence on K-12 virtual teaching and learning, and the performance of such virtual schools. The third report on virtual education in the U.S. is being released today.

Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, edited Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2015: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence. Contributing authors to the research brief include Gary Miron of Western Michigan University, Luis Huerta of Teachers College, Columbia University, and Michael Barbour of Sacred Heart University. Contributors to this study also include Sheryl Shafer of Teachers College, Columbia University, and Charisse Gulosino at the University of Memphis

The authors of the 2015 report found troubling issues, which continue to outpace informed policy. They also found a lack of research to support virtual schools' practices or to justify ongoing calls for more expansion.

Regarding teacher quality, Huerta and Shafer found "little progress has been made over the past year on issues related to teacher quality in virtual contexts."

In terms of expansion, Miron and Gulosino state: "The advocates of full-time virtual schools remain several years ahead of policymakers and researchers, and new opportunities are being defined and developed largely by for-profit entities accountable to stockholders rather than to any public constituency."

According to Barbour, "More than twenty years after the first virtual schools began, there continues to be a dearth of empirical, longitudinal research to guide the practice and policy of virtual schooling."

Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2015 provides a guide for discussing the failings – and the opportunities – of virtual learning with policymakers and the broader public.

The 2015 report presents several important findings:

  • Policymakers continue to face difficult challenges in the areas of funding and governance; instructional program quality; and recruitment and retention of high quality teachers.
  • Claims made in support of expanding virtual education are largely unsupported by high quality research evidence.
  • Compared with conventional public schools, full-time virtual schools continue to serve relatively few Black and Hispanic students, impoverished students, and special education students.
  • On the common metrics of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), school performance ratings, and graduation rates, full-time virtual schools lagged significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

The authors analyze to what extent, if any, policy in the past year has moved toward or away from the 2014 recommendations.

As virtual schools proliferate, policymakers and education leaders must develop evidence-based guidelines to regulate the operation and growth of full-time virtual schools, focusing on successful models, according to the third annual report.

Find the report on the Great Lakes Center website:

This report can also found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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