April 20, 2009

Online schooling has clear successes, but important challenges remain, policy brief concludes

Contact: Teri Battaglieri – (248) 444-7071;
Gene V Glass – (480) 965 2692;

EAST LANSING, MI (April 20, 2009) – K-12 virtual education is becoming increasingly widespread in public education, but concerns remain about the benefits of full-time virtual schools as well as issues of cost, accreditation, evaluation and the increased commercialization of schooling, according to a new policy brief released today by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The brief, The Realities of K-12 Virtual Education, is by Gene V Glass, regents’ professor of education at Arizona State University. Glass surveys the current research literature on virtual education, examining issues such as the quality of online schooling and attitudes toward it on the part of the public and public officials.

The most frequent form of virtual education, Glass writes, is “credit recovery” – online classes that make up for a previously failed course or for a necessary class that could not be scheduled conventionally.

Glass reports that three meta-analyses of studies examining virtual education programs have concluded that there was no difference in achievement between students taught through online courses and those taught in traditional, face-to-face classroom settings. These existing studies overwhelmingly concentrated on distance education – online education used, for example, to provide services to students in extremely rural areas – so research should now focus on the newer applications of the model. These earlier studies also “focused on highly structured curricula such as science, math, and reading,” Glass notes. Little is yet known about how well students can learn from virtual courses on “less readily codified subjects” such as art, music or literary interpretation.

The development of full-time virtual schooling also raises funding and other political issues, Glass explains. This policy debate tends to be dominated by “the commercial interests of large, private providers of courses and programs,” with public school districts and universities now entering the market.

Glass concludes with a series of recommendations made to legislatures, state-level education officials and school boards:

  • Adopt new regulations governing the provision of online K-12 schooling.
  • Call for audits of providers of virtual education to help determine costs.
  • Recognize legitimate accrediting agencies.
  • Require credible assessment and evaluation.

Find Gene Glass’s report, The Realities of K-12 Virtual Education, on the Web at


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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