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

Second Virtual Schools Report Released

Analysis uncovers little credible research to support expansion

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Mar. 4, 2014) – As virtual education has become a focal point for policymakers interested in expanding educational choices and improving the efficiency of public education, virtual schools have attracted a great deal of attention. 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 second report on virtual education in the U.S. is being released today.

Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2014: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence, is edited by Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. Contributing authors to the research brief include Gary Miron of Western Michigan University, Luis Huerta of Teachers College, Columbia University, Jennifer King Rice of the University of Maryland, and Michael Barbour of Sacred Heart University. Contributors to this study also include Sheryl Shafer of Teachers College, Columbia University, Brian Horvitz of Western Michigan University, and Charisse Gulosino at the University of Memphis

According to Barbour, "While there has been some improvement in what is known about supplemental K-12 online learning, there continues to be a lack of reliable and valid evidence to guide the practice of full-time K-12 online learning. Yet it is the full-time K-12 online learning that has seen the greatest growth in recent years."

The 2013 report offered a number of troubling statistics and provided an initial set of research-based recommendations to guide policy making on virtual education. The 2014 report revisits those recommendations to document progress being made toward more sound policies for virtual education in the U.S.

The report is organized in three major sections:

  • Section one identifies three key challenges faced by policymakers: (1) funding and governance; (2) instructional program quality; and (3) recruitment and retention of high quality teachers.
  • Section two examines the disconnect between policy and research into virtual schooling.
  • Section three investigates enrollment, student characteristics, and performance of K-12 full-time virtual schools. 

Identifying funding, governance and accountability mechanisms associated with operating virtual schools continues to be a challenge for policymakers and practitioners.

Regarding access to quality teachers, Huerta and Rice King found: "While a great deal of research has focused on defining teacher quality in traditional settings, little is known about what constitutes teacher quality in virtual schools."

Additionally, the report identified – despite a notable lack of credible research evidence related to online education – 30 states and the District of Columbia that allow full-time virtual schools to operate, and even more states allow, or require, one or more courses be delivered online to public school students.

It's imperative for policymakers to slow or stop the growth of these schools until more research is done and accountability measures can be put into place, the report's authors concluded.

According to Barbour, "The vast majority of the research into the design, delivery, and support of K-12 online learning has focused on the supplemental K-12 online learning environment. More research on strategies for the effective design, delivery and support of full-time K-12 online learning is crucial."

Find the report on the Great Lakes Center website:

This report is 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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